In January 2006 Raising the Roof launched Youthworks – a national initiative aimed at breaking the cycle of homelessness among young Canadians, and supporting them to build a better future. Based on the need to better understand the issue of youth homelessness, we undertook a three-year research project to track and describe the experiences of 689 street-involved youth in three Canadian cities – Calgary, Toronto and St. John’s. The project findings and considerable subsequent expert feedback on those findings have enabled us to develop a snapshot of youth homelessness in Canada today.
This paper focuses on three essential service and support system components that address the complex needs of street-involved youth: prevention, emergency response and transitions out of homelessness. Prevention addresses the key triggers of youth homelessness. Emergency response – which includes youth shelters, access and outreach programs – seeks to address the immediate needs of street-involved youth to stabilize their situation. Transitions out of homelessness is anchored in affordable, supportive accommodation and an array of supports to help youth fulfill their potential and successfully integrate into mainstream society.
Our research shows that street-involved youth often require diverse, multi-faceted, intensive models of support – support that may include appropriate, affordable housing, education, skills training and employment opportunities, health services, mentorship and much more. System integration of all these elements is therefore of the utmost importance.
It is also important that these supports are youth-focused; the needs of street-involved youth are very different from those of homeless adults. (Author)