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
*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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.