In June 2017, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development took a bold and important step. The step signaled that the Federal Government was prepared to listen, shift its course and prioritize particular issues within the Canadian context in relation to the redesign of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The most important role of any government is to listen to community and its stakeholders and respond accordingly. To help them listen, a 13-member Advisory Committee on Homelessness (the Committee) was assembled. Roundtables, hosted by the Committee, were held in eight regions (along with a roundtable focused on veterans homelessness, a meeting with Community Entities and Community Advisory Board representatives at CAEH17) where additional insight and priorities were captured. The result was a breadth of content, research and feedback from the public consultation process that shaped the Committee’s final report (insert link) with recommendations to the Minister.
Does the report signal a new direction for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy? We think it does and here are 5 reasons why:
- The lives of young people matter: We must transform the way we respond to youth homelessness and the Committee’s report clearly articulates the “how”. By moving from managing the crisis and putting young people at great risk, to an approach that focuses on the health and well-being of young people and assisting them to transition to adulthood in a safe and planned manner. The Without a Home study (Gaetz, O’Grady, Kidd & Schwan, 2016) which is the largest research project on youth homelessness ever conducted in Canada (led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada), found that a large percentage of young people had their first experience of homelessness before they were 16 years of age. These young people had much worse childhood experiences (ex. exposure to physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as bullying), greater housing instability (including multiple episodes of homelessness), and more acute mental health challenges. Retained investments in Housing First and other community supports should be a priority given the foundation HPS has established across Canada. This must be accompanied by a dedicated investment in, and prioritization, of youth homelessness.
- Prevention can be its own priority: The importance of prevention is highlighted throughout the report and this is coupled with recommendations focusing on funding for demonstration projects. The suggestion that the government should have a clear definition of prevention, pursue opportunities for partnerships with others orders of government or government departments should be seen as something we can all organize around. Provinces and Territories are looking for opportunities to align and harmonize their efforts. We feel this opens up a specific opportunity for the Federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and indigenous governments to make Canada a world leader in helping young people successfully transition from care in a way that is safe, planned, and supported.
- Community Planning is changing: Communities across the country are engaging in processes to plan and implement youth homelessness strategies, and many more have indicated a readiness to do so. In addition, we are seeing communities embedding the issue of youth homelessness and the necessary responses within broader community plans to address homelessness. The Committee’s report focuses on coordinated local homelessness systems and the need for communities to ensure these systems are data-driven. This kind of coordination and emphasis, which should include data focusing on the Canadian definition of youth homelessness along with measurable targets, can bring us closer to local systems that prevent and reduce homelessness, with the hope of ending it.
- Innovation should be rewarded: As demonstrated by the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab, it is clear that the Federal government wants the evidence and foundation necessary to transform the homeless serving system. While the current Innovative Solutions to Homelessness funding stream through HPS was criticized, the recommendations mold a new and transformative process for communities to innovate. At its core, the innovation stream should provide the flexibility to launch, research and evaluate demonstration projects so the right tools and resources can be developed to support other communities. This knowledge mobilization will ensure models of prevention can take root at the policy and practice levels.
- Federal, Provincial and Territorial Leadership is needed: Moving away from siloed policy work has always been a priority for governments. Many would suggest that the policy landscape that surrounds the issue of youth homelessness is extremely challenging. We would view those challenges as unique opportunities. Provinces and Territories have dedicated child intervention systems, justice systems, education systems and health and mental health care systems that all have a role in responding to youth homelessness. The Committee is recommending a Federal, Provincial and Territorial Committee on youth homelessness be created to allow for greater alignment of policy, funding and share best practices. Tasked with the responsibility of developing a pan-Canadian youth homelessness strategy, this would allow government and community stakeholders to come together to support and enable community-driven responses and client-centered approaches to addressing youth homelessness.
Here at A Way Home Canada we are very pleased with the alignment of the recommendations in our 2017 federal policy brief, “Opportunity Knocks,” with the recommendations in the Advisory Committee’s final report. The boldness of this government to undertake an open, transparent and community focused approach to the redesign of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy should be commended. The commitment, focus and tireless pursuit of changing the status quo by the Committee’s Chair, Adam Vaughan should be celebrated. When we see change and recommendations are accepted, we sincerely hope that those who contributed to the process feel validated and heard. We will continue to work with our government and community partners to make this report matter.