Breaking the Cycle of Youth Homelessness - Interview with Carolann Barr

Carolann Barr is the Executive Director of Raising the Roof, Canada's only national charity dedicated to long-term solutions to homelessness.

Carolann has led the development of the national research report Youth Homelessness in Canada: The Road to Solutions. She is currently leading national research efforts and partnership-building initiatives to break the cycle of youth homelessness through Raising the Roof’s Youthworks initiative. Carolann’s background includes 20 years of working in the community sector providing leadership and program development expertise to benefit diverse and marginalized people.

Q: What is your area of research?

Carolann: Raising the Roof conducted three years of research on youth homelessness across Canada and partnered with three agencies in Toronto, Calgary and St John’s to hear directly from close to 700 youth ­­what they think that is facing them around being homeless and what has helped them get off the streets and become more stable. That research also involved other current research on youth homelessness as well as consulting with close to 300 people across the country including different stakeholders on the issue. That culminated in a report, Youth Homelessness in Canada: Road to Solutions released last November (2009) and we were pleased to get lots of public attention drawn to the issue of youth homelessness and some of the solutions.

What makes this research area important?

I think the area of youth homelessness is such an important area. When we talk about homelessness its  important to highlight young people who are particularly vulnerable. They have different needs and they don’t always have the life skills or supports in place in their life. Dealing with homelessness [on top of these issues], they’re very vulnerable to exploitation on the streets. I think we really owe it to our young people to help them get on track now so that they don’t end up in a long-term cycle of homelessness.

What are the key issues?

I think there’s a lot of agreement in the sector that there needs to be a comprehensive plan to address the issue of homelessness. With 65,000 homeless youth in Canada, it’s critical that we address this now. There’s lots of conversations and parliament moving forward to have a national housing strategy. In that, there’s a real clear focus and strategy to help homeless young people in this country. The other part of that is funds and resources need to be long-term and stable in terms of being able to not just to effectively have a band-aid solution to the issue of homelessness but to look at how we can prevent it and address it long-term. This involves all of the different stakeholders in the community, government, people who have been homeless, young people who have been homeless, agencies and corporations, businesses and unions. We need to all work with different orders of government to look at how we can have long-term investment to provide appropriate solutions and opportunities to prevent homelessness.

What is the key policy priority?

It’s important that the federal government is a leader in developing a national housing strategy and ensuring that within that strategy are clear policies, priorities and objectives to address youth homelessness. The Homelessness Partnering Secretariat, which has been running for over 10 years in Canada, has been really effective in addressing homelessness across the country. They have 7 funding priorities and I would add that we would need to make sure that the unique needs of youth who are homeless are addressed by adding them as one of the 7 priorities (or as the 8th priority) in the Homelessness Partnering Secretariat priorities. They can act as a leader and when some of the other provinces and territories are developing some of their policies around youth homelessness their consultations with the local community the federal government can set the tone and be a leader in that area.

What is next in terms of your research?

We wrote the report Youth Homelessness in Canada: Road to Solutions and many people across the country had input into that report. It reflects many voices across the country about the issue of youth homelessness and what can be done to solve it. Some of the recommendations in that report were looking at what Raising the Roof can do to carry forward some of those recommendations.

We want to continue to work closely with communities and government to work on implementing some of those recommendations and policies that can address and prevent youth homelessness. As well as developing a national public education campaign to educate and engage the public about what they can do and to dispel some of the myths about who are young people who end up homeless and what are some of their circumstances.

The third area is our Youth Works project. The research that we’re doing is understanding how private sector can play a role. We’re currently doing background research on doing innovative employment skills training and mentorship opportunities that the private sector, corporations, businesses and unions have been involved in across the country. We’re looking at encouraging more private sector involvement in employment skills training and mentorship and how they can play a key role in being part of the solution to helping homeless young people get on the right path in their life.

Publication Date: 
Toronto, ON, Canada