The Making the Shift Demonstration Lab (MtS DEMS) is almost two years old! We wanted to share some of the fundamentals of A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’ collaborative youth homelessness initiative. Here are the top ten things you need to know about #MtSDEMS:

1. Collaboration

The foundation of the entire MtS DEMS project - collaboration is everything here! The project is co-led nationally by A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, with support from MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. We’ve teamed up with local agencies from ten communities in two provinces to deliver services, and we have research teams on the ground collecting data and stories from these communities. At the same time, we’re supporting these community partners through training and technical assistance, and integration into a robust community of practice. Developing relationships with Indigenous leaders and communities has been central to this work. All of our learning from the demonstration projects will continue to guide the on-going development of tools and resources to support other communities to do this work well.

2. Demonstration Projects 

As mentioned above, we have partnered with local youth-serving agencies in communities across Ontario and Alberta to deliver services to youth and their support networks. These special programs are known as demonstration projects, as we are seeking to test and refine these interventions. All twelve demonstration projects are being evaluated and monitored by our national team, who are also providing support and feedback to program staff. 

3. Program Models

Each of the demonstration sites is field-testing one of three interventions: Housing First for Youth (HF4Y); Enhancing Family and Natural Supports (EFNS); and Youth Reconnect (YR). All of the interventions highlight the need for early intervention and a preventative approach. HF4Y is a version of Housing First that was specifically developed for the needs of young people. EFNS is an approach that involves working directly with a youth’s support network (families, neighbours, coaches, friends, etc.) as well as the youth to build up resiliency and social connections. Similarly, YR involves building resiliency through support and a focus on staying in/returning to education. 

4. Building an Evidence Base

A key objective of MtS DEMS is to build out and develop an evidence base of information about youth homelessness interventions. This knowledge can then be used to inform effective policy, practice, and investment. Essentially, we need to know more about how interventions work or don’t work and for whom they work. The data gathered from our demonstration project sites will contribute greatly to this evidence base in Canada. 

5. Youth Rights

MtS DEMS uses a human rights-based approach – namely, that all young people have rights that must be respected. Our project ethos demands that young people are involved directly in the work, making choices when appropriate and otherwise well informed of what choices are made for them and why. Young people who are vulnerable to homelessness are too often not involved in creating their own service pathway, which can hinder chances of success. All of the program models that we are working with have principles that guide this work with young people. 

6. Indigenous-led Housing First for Indigenous Youth

The MtS DEMS project has been rooted in our connection to our Indigenous partners. The best example is the Hamilton Housing First for Youth project, which has created a new program model: Indigenous-led Housing First for Indigenous Youth. This program was created by and for the Indigenous community in Hamilton, including young people, and given the Ojibwe name Endaayaang (which loosely translates to “our home”).

7. At Home/Chez Soi Legacy 

Some people have noticed that MtS DEMS shares a lot of similarities with the At Home/Chez Soi project; this is deliberate, as MtS DEMS is a direct result of At Home/Chez Soi findings. Specifically: “We suggest considering modifications of ‘Housing First’ to maintain fidelity to core principles while better meeting the needs of youth”. We are extending beyond the work of At Home/Chez Soi to take a developmental approach to Housing First for Youth. 

8. Training and Technical Assistance

Undertaking a project of this size and importance is no easy feat, which is why we rely on great training and technical assistance for all members of the MtS DEMS team. We have been trained in cultural sensitivity, Housing First for Youth, logic models, and more. Our program implementation team is always refreshing and updating tools and training to ensure the best possible outcomes for everyone involved. 

9. Early Intervention/Prevention 

All of our program models follow the principles of prevention and early intervention; we know that traditional approaches wait too long to get involved. Young people deserve better supports to avoid homelessness, or if they do experience homelessness, to permanently exit it as soon as possible. More information on early intervention and prevention can be found in the Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness

10. Two Year Anniversary

Finally, if any of this is sounding familiar it could be because MtS DEMS is celebrating our two-year anniversary! Our project launched in April 2017 with this announcement blog and has been growing and evolving ever since. We are all excited to see where MtS DEMS will be in one, two, and five years from now. 


Want to learn more about the Making the Shift Demonstration Lab? Follow the MtS DEMS blog posts!

Kathleen BurnsContent DeveloperCanadian Observatory on Homelessness