It’s essential that you consider how the proposed direction of the youth plan aligns with the broader community’s work on homelessness. If there is a plan to end homelessness, you will need to outline how the youth plan aligns with it. You will have to be sensitive to the politics involved vis-à-vis other groups who may be advancing solutions for other populations, like women or, Indigenous people. It is an unfortunate reality that such priorities are often pitted against each other in the competition for limited resources and visibility.
Your community likely has, at minimum, an HPS community plan in place. Given the focus on chronic and episodic homelessness, you will have to make a case that funds should be allocated to youth even in cases where they don’t fit the federal definition of chronic and episodic. However, it is likely that your plan will include a funding ask for your provincial/territorial and local government as well, where the accountability for youth services, homeless supports, income assistance, etc., often lies.
If your community does not have a plan to end homelessness, you may be able to leverage the youth plan development process to highlight the need for this. You can make the case that by addressing youth homelessness first, your community can build an approach that can be revised and applied to other populations over time as well.
Since the youth plan is focused on addressing homelessness, it is important to also consider what general homelessness plans call for in terms of essential elements. In its document A Plan Not a Dream, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness provides guidance around four key elements of plans to end homelessness. The CAEH built its approach on the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ Ten Essentials Toolkit for Ending Homelessness.
CAEH Elements of Plans to End Homelessness
Plan for outcomes: In order to end homelessness, you need a plan. Successful community plans are evidence-based; have measurable and ambitious outcomes and key milestones; are learning, living and adaptive documents; cover the 10 Essentials; and, critically, are the product of an inclusive community process that engages key players in the local homeless system, including people with lived experience.
Research and data management are central to developing effective responses, coordinating systems and measuring outcomes. If you want to move forward, you need to understand the problem. You also need to be able to tell if you are having an impact. Basic research on homelessness in terms of causes, lived experience and solutions makes for better policy and practice. Information management systems, such as Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS), are being applied in Canada. HMIS allow for system-wide data collection and sharing across the system and ensure that you can really measure progress. Instituting a culture of program evaluation within the system means that we can highlight practical and effective program models and practices, and also demonstrate results.
Close the front door: The most cost-effective way to end homelessness for people is to stop it before it begins with effective prevention. Homeless people travel a predictable path into homelessness. On their way into homelessness, every single individual or family comes into contact with a person, program or system that could prevent their homelessness. In order to end homelessness, communities need a thoughtful and methodical prevention strategy that includes: early detection; emergency assistance; policy and practice reforms to mainstream systems that inadvertently contribute to homelessness; system coordination; housing and support services; and access to income necessary to sustain housing through employment or mainstream income support as required.
Open the back door: For the vast majority of homeless Canadians, homelessness is a short-term phenomenon. A small but significant minority become trapped in homelessness or cycle in and out of homelessness throughout their lives. There are effective initiatives that move people from homelessness to a stable home. These need to be a cornerstone of a plan to end homelessness. Successful community plans include strategies for rapid re-housing, housing support services and coordinated systems with the express intent to shorten the duration of homelessness.
Core to effective community plans is the concept of Housing First. Housing First is a successful and transformational housing model used in a number of Canadian and American communities. Housing First puts the priority on a rapid and direct move from homelessness to housing, instead of requiring people to graduate through a series of steps before getting into permanent housing. Housing First is not housing only. Integral to the Housing First philosophy are the services and supports necessary to sustain that housing and create long-term independence.
Build the infrastructure: While systems can be changed to prevent and shorten the experience of homelessness, ultimately people will continue to be threatened with instability until the supply of affordable housing is increased; incomes of people living in poverty are sufficient to meet their basic needs; and disadvantaged people receive the support services they need.