“We were surprised by the percentage of young, homeless people who wanted to reconcile at some level with family—but we hadn’t seen that as a priority in the research literature in Canada,” says Dr. Daphne Winland, Associate Professor at York University and one of the co-authors of Family Matters: Homeless Youth and Eva’s Initiatives “Family Reconnect” Program. Another co-author, Dr. Stephen Gaetz, also at York and Director of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network (CHRN), observes that the same gap exists on the ground: “We have created a system that focuses on emergency services—and it’s not that they’re doing a bad job, but the longer a young person remains unhoused, the more entrenched they become in the street lifestyle, and the harder it is for them to move forward in their lives.”
Interested in how a more preventive, family-centred approach might help homeless youth, they profiled the Family Reconnect Program spearheaded by Eva’s Initiatives, a Toronto-based group, to determine the effectiveness of the approach, and what elements of it could be replicated on a larger scale.
From 2009 to 2010, the two researchers, along with their research assistants, Tara Patton and Melissa Atkinson-Graham, interviewed staff of the Family Reconnect program to get a solid understanding of how the program works; they also interviewed program clients—both youth and family members—about personal and family histories, the circumstances that led the youth to the streets, their experience of homelessness and their involvement in the program. Finally, they analyzed client data gathered by Eva’s Initiatives over the previous five years, comprising information about more than 1,000 individuals.
The analysis showed that the Family Reconnect model, which focuses on counselling for youth and family, diagnosis and mental health supports, encouraged many young people to renew contact with family and demonstrably improved relations between them. The program was also able to better identify underlying mental health issues, which in turn can bring the right supports into play.
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Read the full study: Family Matters: Homeless Youth & Eva’s Initiative’s Family Reconnect Program
From the Fall 2011 National Housing Research Committee (NHRC) newsletter