On the Blog Series
As efforts to end youth homelessness gain traction across the country, finding and implementing interventions that work for young people becomes increasingly important for communities. Unfortunately, there remains a lot of work to do for those of us in the research community to capture effective practice, and translate it in terms that make sense to policy makers, service providers, youth and funders.
With the support of the Homeless Hub, Government of Alberta, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and the Safe Haven Foundation, this blog series aims to shed light on an evidence-based approach to serving youth grounded in the Core Principles of the Foyer Model from Calgary, AB called Haven’s Way.
It is important to complement the research perspective with of those of people ‘living’ Haven’s Way: the staff and youth residing in this home. To this end, this blog is followed by one from Heidi Walter, Manager of Youth Housing at Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Ange Neil, a youth participant. The fourth blog post will look at the perspective of the funder and will be written by Karen Sherbut, the co-founder of the Safe Haven Foundation.
In the final blog in the series, I will provide some of the key elements relevant to practitioners and funders interested in exploring the model’s application in their contexts. Here, I try to discern what key elements are ‘essential’ to the success of the program in achieving stability and independence for youth.
Introducing Haven’s Way
In 2015, at the request of Alberta Human Services and BGCC, I had the privilege to evaluate a long-standing program delivering innovative and effective supportive home-like environment to young women in Calgary since 2000. The residents at Haven’s Way share a duplex with Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary staff – a House Parent and a Supportive Roommate. An additional Case Manager supports the live-in staff and the six youth in the program at any one time.
The program was founded by the Safe Haven Foundation to offer a home for young women (14-24) who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. This risk has presented itself in many different ways including sexual, mental and physical abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect, mental health, drug addiction and involvement with street life. The program offers a safe home environment, surrounded by positive adult role models that support them to thrive in their daily lives and focus on their education.
Given the complexities of youth’s reported histories of family breakdown, trauma, mental health and addiction concerns prior to entering the program, Haven’s Way approach provides them with a home where can begin to heal, increase their level of education and develop the skills and supports that will transition them into adult self-sufficiency. From this perspective, the program aligns with the premises of the Foyer model and its focus on healthy youth development.
The youth receive basic living supports, as well as case management that follows the stages of change framework, is trauma-informed, and youth-centered. Youth receive individualized, flexible support that tailored in focus and intensity, molding to participant life circumstance and changing interests.
The evaluation of the program included interviews with staff and youth (current and past participants), the network of professionals who provided referral and additional supports to the program, funders and other researchers.
In short, the 100-page evaluation report boils down to this: the program works. It works from the perspective of youth, staff and external stakeholders. These views are also validated by 15 years of data and case file documentation on 70 different youth who went through the program.
Here are some highlights:
- Of the 18 youth evaluation participants, 100% reported improved housing stability, education and employment outcomes as result of program participation. In addition, 94% reported a very high level of satisfaction with the approach.
- Staff and youth confirm that for 2014-15, all but one program participant residing at Haven’s Way maintained housing stability and pursued educational and employment goals actively.
- Of the 11 graduates who left the program between 2012 and 2015, all but one had stable housing – living on their own rental accommodations, reuniting with their family or moving on to live with another natural support.
What’s important is to note that support doesn’t stop when youth move out. Although the 11 graduates had left an average of two years prior to the evaluation, staff maintained contact with them and were able to report the current housing, education and employment situation.
- 63.3% of the 11 past participants had graduated high school, were pursuing post-secondary/trade, and one was in high school.
- All but two (81.8%) were employed either part- or full-time
- Only one (9.1%) of 11 exits was considered negative as the participant left without a transition plan and has since experienced episodes of homelessness and housing instability.
Essential Program Elements
Beyond assessing the program’s effectiveness and areas for improvement, I also tried to dig deeper into the key elements that made it successful. These are critical considerations if we consider expanding or replicating the model for other populations. A number of features were mentioned as essential by youth, staff, the founders and other stakeholders, which are consistent with youth perspectives on program strengths, as summarized below.