In this blog, the York Region Youth Homelessness Prevention and Housing Stabilization Strategy developed by a collaborative of service providers and youth with lived experience will be unpacked. You will learn what the initiative is, why it was developed, how it fills the gaps in preventing youth homelessness and much more. This blog was created based on an interview with Clovis Grant, CEO of 360°kids Support Services, the backbone agency for the collaborative.
The York Region Youth Homelessness Prevention and Housing Stabilization Strategy was recently selected as the winner of the first annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards in the collaboration category.
About the initiative:
The York Region Youth Homelessness Prevention and Housing Stabilization Strategy uses a collective impact approach. There are more than 30 organizations, individuals and young people involved in this strategy from across different sectors. The main goal of this collaborative work is to shorten or prevent the experience of homelessness for youth in York Region through better alignment of services. The initiative looks at structural and system barriers, housing opportunities, youth leadership as well as early intervention strategies to prevent youth homelessness and school disengagement.
“[Our initiative is about] bringing the likely and the unlikely partners around the table to say ‘how can we do things differently?’” – Clovis Grant
About a year before this initiative began, 360°kids began working with York Region District School Board to implement the Upstream project. The success of this initiative provided a foundation to continue to advance a youth homelessness prevention agenda in this municipality.
Like in many other suburban communities, there were not a lot of services for youth experiencing homelessness in York Region. This inspired the CEO of 360°kids, Clovis Grant, to start looking at the prevention work being done in other communities. He noticed that some communities had developed a “youth strategy” to approach preventing and ending youth homelessness.
360°kids approached the Municipality of York Region and the United Way of Greater Toronto to ask if they’d be interested in doing something similar and they welcomed the idea. With seed funding from United Way of Greater Toronto and support from a range of service providers, they began developing a homelessness prevention strategy for youth. However, collaboration among agencies was not enough - they knew for the strategy to be successful, it would also require input from the youth themselves.
Benefits of Partnership and Collaboration:
Youth are a key partner in this work and allow the solutions coming out of this initiative to be youth-driven. Working collectively puts the responsibility of addressing youth homelessness in the community’s hands and ensures that everyone has a stake in addressing the issue. Collaboration also provides an opportunity to reduce the number of duplicate services and focus on creating the types of services that youth want and need.
“That's part of what we were looking to do with this Youth Strategy, is to bring all of those players together to share resources because they're all funded in different ways… maybe there's an opportunity to leverage those funding opportunities to better support our young people.” – Clovis Grant
One of the key takeaways for the Youth Strategy Collaborative is that for this work to be successful it must be youth-involved not just youth-informed. In the interview, Clovis shared a story about a conversation he had with Bonnie Harkness, Chief Operating Officer for 360°kids, who is leading the project. During this conversation, Bonnie said, “why don't we actually ask the youth how they want to be engaged?”. Clovis pointed out that so many organizations think they know all the “right things to do” because of the experience they have in the field. However, they forget there is so much more to learn from the youth they are trying to serve.
The second key takeaway is that to do this type of work effectively, your collaboration must have a strong “backbone” support. During this project, the project experienced staff turnover (Project Coordinator) which reinforced the importance of the backbone function in projects like this. It is crucial to have someone who can help support the different partners and handle the administrative demands of coordinating this work.
The last key takeaway is to give the work time and leverage the relationships you have. During the interview, Clovis claimed, “We were very ambitious in terms of the things that we wanted to accomplish with this [strategy], and with support from A Way Home Canada, we were able to get some coaching and support”. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. If something is successful for another organization, build a relationship with them and learn from their success. However, building these relationships and creating something of this magnitude takes time so it’s important to be patient with yourself.
Community Impact of Initiative:
There were two stories that Clovis shared during the interview that explained the impact of this work on the community. The first story he shared was about other agencies taking ownership of this work.
“There was an opportunity that came up over the past year to bring in some technology to help us share data, because that was an important part of our project… it was amazing to see a number of agencies actually coming forward and putting money towards this new technology solution... So, it really warmed my heart to say, there is real community ownership for this work.” – Clovis Grant
The other story that he shared was about the youth that they serve through this initiative.
“A really important thing for me and for us in this work was the engagement of the young people. And throughout this project, we've seen how we were able to, to do just that…[During] the pandemic we saw some of the youth taking a leadership opportunity to create space where other young people can talk about the murder of George Floyd. And that was heartening to see. Youth have advocated to politicians, spoken at a conference and are developing projects to engage other youth to raise awareness about homelessness in York Region. These kinds of leadership opportunities were made possible for the young people to have a voice and to develop leadership skills.” – Clovis Grant
Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards:
This year marked the launch of the first annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards Program. The Awards are sponsored by Canada Life and co-led by A Way Home Canada and the COH. They were created to celebrate the important work happening to prevent youth homelessness in Canada. This year, we presented two awards - one in the collaboration category and one in the program initiatives category.
Note: This blog post is part of a blog series that highlights the winners of the MtS Youth Prevention Award Winners. To learn about the award winner in the program initiatives category, read our blog here.