The Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub program developed by Wyndham House in Guelph, ON was recently selected as one of the winners of the third annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards. 

We spoke with Kristen Cairney, Executive Director of Wyndham House, to learn more about the initiative, why it was designed, how it fills the gaps in preventing youth homelessness, and much more. 

About the initiative

The Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub was established in 2021. It was designed to support youth up to the age of 25 who may be struggling with substance use, mental health issues, legal difficulties, housing issues and/or family conflict by providing them with the necessary resources and supports in one location.

“...lots of services that exist for folks with mental health and substance use concerns are sort of either or, either mental health or substance use or you know addressing a different the purpose of this service is to bring everything together in one location.” - Kristen Cairney, Executive Director of Wyndham House

Another factor that makes this program unique is its strong focus on harm reduction. The Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub focuses on meeting the youth where they are at and providing services/supports based on the specific needs of the young person regardless of whether or not they are currently using substances. Youth can access resources and supports on-site and without long wait times. Youth are typically seen by someone within 1 week of the referral being made.


Wyndham House saw the need to develop a program like the Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub after reviewing data about youth homelessness and analyzing the trends in their community. They recognized it was difficult for young people with concurrent mental health and substance use concerns to find interventions in Guelph that were timely and allowed them to access housing and health supports in one location. They also noticed an increase in youth ending up in crisis inpatient units because of the lack of supports available to appropriately address their needs.

Out of growing concern, Wyndham House and several community partners came together under their local drug strategy to create a youth concurrent disorders working group. This group developed the concept of the Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub. Together, they applied for a grant and set out to start up the service. The Hub started as a small pilot project with just one clinician and has since grown to include a large team of support providers.

Benefits of Partnership and Collaboration

Partnerships and collaboration are essential to the work that Wyndham House does. 

Wyndham House attributes much of the Hub’s success to the fact that they worked collaboratively to develop the service and continue to make use of partnerships as part of their daily operations.

“I think that if there wasn't that level of collaboration we may not have hit the mark on what exactly was needed in terms of the population because we all have such different vantage points…it was important to work with partners to look at what services were actually available and how we could tailor them to the needs of this population.”  -  Kristen Cairney, Executive Director of Wyndham House

Lessons Learned

One of the key takeaways for Wyndham House is that prevention is incredibly effective. As Kristen mentioned during the interview, there has been a 92% reduction in youth homelessness in the Guelph region since they began to offer prevention-focused services, including but not limited to the Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub.

Another key learning was about change management. Kristen remarked that it has been challenging to get some of their partners to understand why Wyndham House has chosen to shift away from providing mostly emergency supports towards a focus on youth homelessness prevention. To address this issue, Wyndham House worked with the University of Guelph to create educational resources to share with partners. These resources were developed to help everyone understand the rationale behind this change and to explain how other organizations could make an impact in preventing youth homelessness in the community.

“Just because we understand it from our homelessness perspective doesn't mean necessarily that our partners would understand that right away.” - Kristen Cairney, Executive Director of Wyndham House

Finally, through this work, Wyndham House learned about the importance of considering a young person's comprehensive needs when providing supports. As Kristen states:

“It's important to recognize that there could be a number of unmet needs for the family or the individual that we're serving…so although our primary goal as a housing service agency might be to focus on that housing piece, we need to make sure we're looking at the whole person and what they might need in order to experience safety and stability in the place that they are choosing to go."

Community Impact of Initiative:

Kristen shared a story about one of the young people who made use of the Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub. The young person was a 17-year-old trans woman who was experiencing human trafficking. This person struggled to find somewhere to go and was unable to go home for various reasons, so they came to the Hub asking for housing and basic needs support as well as support around mental health and substance use.

“They had gone to lots of doors and felt like they were getting pieces of needs met, experiencing some discrimination along the way, and not really finding a good place to land in terms of support.”  - Kristen Cairney, Executive Director of Wyndham House

Through the Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub and Wyndham House’s diversion program, they were able to help that young person:

  • Find a housing placement that was suitable for them
  • Access a psychiatrist 
  • Access harm reduction supplies
  • Access an addiction medicine specialist to address some opioid replacement options
  • Access supports around transitioning

“[We were] able to address all of those pieces together without the person having to go to 10 different settings to get those needs met…my hope and my understanding from the person is that they felt that this was an environment where they felt safe and not discriminated against.”  - Kristen Cairney, Executive Director of Wyndham House

When the young person was ready, the staff at the Hub were also able to get them into an inpatient treatment program that specializes in human trafficking, which they attended for a few months. When they finished the inpatient program, their previous housing placement was still available to them and they continued to receive support from the Hub with substance use.

Since then, the young person has gone back to school and is taking positive steps to rebuild their life. 

About the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards

This year marked the third annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards Program. The Awards are presented by Canada Life and co-led by A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. They were created to celebrate the important work happening to prevent youth homelessness in Canada. 

Note: This blog post is part of a blog series highlighting the winners of the MtS Youth Prevention Award Winners. To learn about the other award winner for 2023, read our blog here.