Determining Community Readiness

How do you know your community is ready to undertake a large-scale initiative to end youth homelessness?  Given that ending youth homelessness is a collective impact endeavour, your group can benefit from a readiness assessment to identify deficits you may need to address before moving the planning process forward.

The FSG Collective Impact Readiness Assessment is an excellent tool to gauge whether your community currently has critical elements/processes in place. It can help you identify whether significant time and resources will be needed to either begin or complete critical processes. A similar tool from FSG also points readers to resources to complement their efforts. Another self-assessment was developed by Innoweave to help members of a collaborative reflect on their readiness to take on collective impact. These tools are useful to give you a sense of readiness and identify areas of strength or where additional efforts are needed as you take on the actual planning work from a collective impact lens.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has developed a Community Self-Assessment intended to stimulate thinking around key concepts critical to ending homelessness. This tool uses factors identified through the U.S. 100,000 Homes Campaign to be associated with higher housing placement rates for chronic and vulnerable homeless people and essential elements of system planning in a Housing First context. It aims to gauge a community’s current status against the framework, but also acts as a means of beginning the long-term work to set up new ways of delivering service and coordinating local homelessness responses. The resource is set up as a workbook with pointed questions that are intended to prompt these strategic conversations to occur in your community.

The following characteristics of communities that are effective at ending homelessness can be useful to help you think through community capacity around ending youth homelessness, as opposed to taking on plan development. The list below is intended to help you think through elements of a youth plan based on CAEH’s Community Self-Assessment. These can also help you think through community readiness locally to take on the youth plan work.

You may find the following self-assessment useful to gauge ‘readiness’ for collective impact by identifying which preconditions the group is well prepared for or will need further investment in.

  • Current Situation Strong: These elements/processes are either fully in place or sufficient progress has been made in them so that they are operationally functional in the context of the initiative.
  • Significant Investment Needed: The group does not currently have these elements/processes in place. There is an incomplete or unclear plan to accomplish this goal and/or significant time and resources will need to be allocated to either begin or complete this process.
  • Some Investment Needed: While these elements/processes are not fully in place, significant thought and planning has gone into these elements. Time and resources have been allocated and clear progress is being made.

The first assessment highlights key elements supporting readiness to take on the plan development work, versus the second assessment focuses on implementing a plan to end youth homelessness. Together, these tools will give you a sense of the work ahead and may be useful to come back to as you continue this journey.

Table 8: Community Readiness for Collective Impact Work on Developing & Implementing a Plan to End Youth Homelessness

Backbone Support Organizations
Is the backbone actively supporting aligned activities through convening partners, providing technical assistance and recruiting new partners?      
Has a structure for the backbone been clearly decided (i.e. planning group consisting of project coordinator, steering committee, working committees)?      
Have resources been allocated to support the backbone infrastructure over the course of plan development?      
Has the backbone supports group begun to build public will with consensus and commitment through communications management, articulating the call to action and supporting community member engagement activities?      
Is the backbone supports group advocating for an aligned policy agenda around ending youth homelessness?      
Is the backbone supports group actively aligning public and private funding to support the initiative’s goals?      
Continuous Communication
There is an up-to-date map of the players, strategies and work underway relevant to youth homelessness.      
A workplan has been established to see the plan development through, with clear deliverables, timelines and accountabilities.      
Planning group has a formalized Terms of Reference document outlining common objectives, roles and decision-making processes.      
Plan working group has established all necessary committees by locality or activity areas.      
Have meeting schedules been established for activity-focused sub-groups? Will these meetings occur yearly? Monthly? Weekly?      
Has a list of prioritized activities and next steps been written so that the different groups working on the youth plan are coordinated around a common agenda?      
Common Agenda
Do we have all of the necessary, high-level system leaders at the table? These include priority systems from service providers, Indigenous leadership and public systems including: education, child protection, mental health, health, criminal justice, etc.      
Do we have authentic representation of diverse perspectives within this group, including youth with lived experience who have directly experienced the challenges we seek to solve?      
Does the planning group have an explicit definition of the problem in agreed-upon language to refer to?      
Has the planning group agreed upon the scope of consultations? (i.e. which stakeholders need/do not need to be involved? What is the best means of engaging them?)?      
Has the planning group written a vision, mission statement and guiding principles for the youth plan work?      
Has the group defined system-level strategies as well as program-level strategies as part of the youth plan work?      
Shared Measurement
Resources are allocated to develop and implement a shared measurement strategy as part of the youth plan.      
Research to develop a thorough understanding of youth homelessness in the community is in place/underway to ground the plan.      
Diverse sources of information and data are located and analyzed to build plan priorities.      
Plan development includes costing analysis, projected impacts, measurable targets and performance indicators.*      

*Note that the COH is working to develop a national definition of “Functional Zero” that will help you think through the key elements needed and measures you may want to include in developing plan targets. Also look to examples of performance measures in the Developing Targets and Performance Indicators section. 


Planning & Strategy Development
A plan to end youth homelessness is in place.      
A consistent definition of youth homelessness is used.      
An end to youth homelessness is defined.      
Plan includes common objectives and target dates for completing them.      
Plan uses data on total numbers of homeless youth, annual inflow and outflow and the housing placement rate needed to end youth homelessness during a specific time period.      
Plan is used to guide services and interventions.      
Plan has buy-in from other providers and related systems i.e. mental health, health, criminal justice, child protection, etc.      
Ongoing processes are in place whereby stakeholders plan their response to youth homelessness in a coordinated manner.      
Strategic reviews are done regularly to assess progress against common objectives and adjust approach in real time.      
Organizational Infrastructure & Funding
Leaders in the community serve key coordination roles of:      
Head of organization(s) working on ending youth homelessness locally      
Data/information management lead      
Public policy advocate      
Lived experience advocate      
Diverse stakeholders have strong, pre-existing relationships that strengthen the community’s work on ending youth homelessness.      
Mechanisms are in place to coordinate funding streams.      
Community decision making is being done on a coordinated, system-wide level regarding coordinated entry, acuity assessment and prioritization, performance management and service standards.      
Coordinated Service Delivery
Community can organize diverse programs and housing serving youth by clearly defined program types, with specific eligibility criteria, target groups and performance measures.      
Community can perform system-wide gap and performance analysis in terms of program types and population groups, including youth.      
Community has mechanism in place to quickly determine if a young person experiencing homelessness is eligible for services and benefits and can quickly refer them appropriately.      
Those experiencing homelessness, including youth, are known by name and tracked throughout the homeless-serving system.      
Programs have established effective links with complementary community and mainstream services (e.g. employment, health, treatment, education, community integration, family reunification, counselling, child protection, probation, etc.).      
Integrated Information Management
A system/process is in place to maintain an unduplicated real-time list of all youth experiencing homelessness.      
A database(s) exists to track the progress/movement within the system of all youth experiencing homelessness.      
A system-wide privacy policy is in place that accounts for the needs and legal circumstances of youth.      
A process is in place to assess youth homelessness trends including inflow, housing placement, client characteristics and needs and impacts of interventions.      
Performance Management & Quality Assurance
Common standards of care across various housing and programs serving youth experiencing homelessness are in place.      
Capacity exists to assess performance between like programs and across the homeless-serving system.      
Standardized outcome targets for emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing are established regardless of funder.      
System Integration
Formalized processes are in place to work with public system partners to avoid discharging youth into homelessness; priority systems include: child protection, health and justice.      
Community stakeholders have regular contact with elected officials within the various levels of government.      
Community is active in advancing public policy asks to support an end to youth homelessness to various levels of government.      
Government Support
Government prioritizes ending youth homelessness; this can be evidenced by high level direction-setting policy/plan to end homelessness, etc.      
Government provides adequate resources to enation its direction.      
A point of accountability is identified within government on ending homelessness and youth homelessness.      
Government has taken steps to enhance policy coordination across departments to advance ending homelessness goals.      
Government direction advances service integration at the community level.      
A specific government department is a natural fit for the work required. This natural fit includes a champion.      
Community Engagement
Mechanisms are in place ensure those with lived experience are meaningfully engaged in plan development and implementation. This includes models of peer support in service delivery.      
Research evidence and data is consistently used to inform plan implementation and adjust approach in real time.      
Communication among plan stakeholders is effective ensuring activities across diverse groups move a common agenda forward.      
There is public awareness and support for the plan.      
Community members, including religious groups and volunteers, are actively engaged in implementation.      
The plan is being championed by diverse groups and individuals with influence.      

So do you really need a plan?

After all that, how do you know that a youth plan is the right thing to do for your community? Alternatively, when does a plan NOT make sense?

Though there is no yes/no quiz to tell you a definitive answer, a Collective Impact Community Readiness Assessment (see Section 2) can inform your decision. The important point is that you are aiming to build a movement, not strictly a plan. You may also consider alternatives to a youth plan, as other communities have successfully done to move the agenda on ending youth homelessness forward.

  1. A plan for a plan. In St. John’s, Newfoundland, Choices for Youth – a lead service delivery agency – worked with national experts to convene a roundtable on youth homelessness responses and developed a call to action to the provincial government asking for a strategy and resources aligned with best practices.

    St. John’s approach leveraged existing research in a relatively short timeframe (about one year) to create a sense of urgency, engage provincial stakeholders, propose an evidence-based direction and advance system reform. In this case, rather than developing a city-specific youth plan, Choices for Youth and its partners launched a document calling for a provincial plan, which laid out the essentials of what that provincial plan should also entail.

  2. A youth strategy within a plan to end homelessness. Another option is to develop a youth strategy within the context of a broader community plan to end homelessness. Edmonton’s approach was to work with stakeholders to develop the broad directions of a youth-specific strategy that dovetailed the pre-existing plan to end homelessness, rather than create a parallel plan.

    This approach allowed the community to focus on implementation fairly quickly, as it built on the infrastructure already developed by Homeward Trust on system planning and integration, information management and service design.

  3. Piloting while planning. Another option to consider is to begin implementation while developing the plan. In Alberta’s case, when the 7 Cities began experimenting with Housing First, there were no formal plans to end homelessness in place. That did not stop communities from adapting innovative, evidence-based practices while working on the research and development of their longer-term strategies.

    Of course, there is a risk involved as the new pilot initiative may not fit perfectly with the eventual plan priorities – yet the benefits of demonstrating success while developing a plan cannot be underestimated either. In many ways, Alberta’s 7 Cities were successful in advancing the needs of enhanced provincial funding for Housing First because of the success of these early pilots and reinforced through the provincial commitment to end homelessness.

  4. A plan within a plan. Alberta has experienced success in addressing homelessness through the 10-Year Plan. Since its inception in 2009, more than 12,250 homeless Albertans have received housing and supports and approximately 73% remain successfully housed, but we can do more. The 10-Year Plan states that Albertans from specialized groups, including homeless youth, are dealing with particularly challenging issues and require targeted responses to be rehoused. Supporting Healthy and Successful Transitions to Adulthood: A Plan to Prevent and Reduce Youth Homelessness aligns and is integral to work being led through the 10-Year Plan. The Youth Plan represents the next step in the 10-Year Plan and is a targeted response to a specialized population.