The rates of youth who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity are increasing exponentially across North America. Recent research has demonstrated that 6,000-7,000 youth, aged 13-24, are experiencing housing insecurity on any given night in Canada. Experiences of homelessness among youth are complex and driven by many factors such as family conflict, alienation, bullying, or ongoing experiences of structural violence (e.g., colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia). Experiences of housing insecurity and homelessness among youth are diverse compared to adults, due to their rapidly evolving needs as well as limited tailored supports and resources. In addition, experiences of homelessness for youth have resulted in lifelong and accumulative consequences for youth, leading to negative outcomes such as the development of mental illnesses and violence. 

To mitigate the negative experiences associated with homelessness among youth, scholars have advocated for a prevention-focused approach to service delivery. Upstream Canada is an example of a prevention-based intervention. This program model aims to prevent youth homelessness and school disengagement by providing support to youth aged 12-18 at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness through schools. Upstream is currently being implemented in various communities across Canada, however, this blog post will focus specifically on Upstream Kelowna. 

This blog aims to provide readers with an understanding of the strengths and areas of adaptation needed for any future implementation of the Upstream intervention. To accomplish this, we spoke with implementers and students engaged with the program in Kelowna. 

Lessons Learned from Upstream Kelowna 

1. The Interdisciplinary Nature of Upstream is a Strength

The interdisciplinary nature of Upstream was described as a strength by both implementers and students. Students shared that they appreciated being able to connect to a variety of different individuals and services through one main source. Many shared that they were informed of programs offered in the community through Upstream that they did not know about before. Therefore, the interdisciplinary nature of Upstream provides students with increased accessibility and knowledge of potentially beneficial services within their community. This idea was echoed by implementers. Implementers appreciated being connected to a variety of different agencies through Upstream and reflected on how this helped “fill the gap” in existing service delivery for youth in the community. 

2. Language and Family Dynamics are Key Considerations for the Future  

Implementers provided considerations for the future of Upstream based on their experiences with the Kelowna site. A primary factor that implementers felt was important to the future of Upstream was the use of inclusive language. This was connected to instances of trauma which may be associated with language surrounding ‘homelessness’ or ‘triage’. Implementers suggested adapting language to focus on students’ resilience and strength. Additional considerations raised by implementers included collaborative consent processes to ensure families and guardians feel comfortable with the Upstream process. Implementers believe that this has the potential to improve youth’s willingness to engage with the intervention. 

3.  Client-Centred Programs are Essential for Youth 

Students who were engaged with Upstream overwhelmingly highlighted the importance of the tailored and client-centred nature of the intervention. They described feeling supported and understood by Upstream support workers, which they had never experienced in the past. Building rapport with students was described as a crucial element of the program model by implementers and was discussed as improving retention and engagement in the program for students. They shared that having a trusted relationship with an individual outside of school, friends, or family, helped them overcome mental health challenges and improved their connection to their community.     

Implications for Future Programs

The lessons learned from conversations with students and implementers engaged with Upstream Kelowna have broad implications for the Upstream model and beyond. Future adaptations of the intervention must also be mindful of the unique needs associated with youth’s identity such as their gender, race, Indigeneity, sexuality, and ability.


Melissa Perri, MPH, (she/her) is a PhD Candidate at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto and a senior research assistant at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. She is a settler born on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, the Haudenosaunee, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Her research focuses on the intersections of housing, harm reduction, and gender.

Note: Special thanks to the implementers and students who participated in the conversations which informed this blog. 

This post is part of our #CAEH22 blog series which highlights research on preventing and ending homelessness that is being presented at the 2022 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, November 2-4 in Toronto, ON. Learn more about Melissa’s work through their presentation in the Role of Education in Homelessness Prevention  session Wednesday, November 3rd at 1:30 pm.