Developing Guiding Principles

While the vision and mission statements are forward-looking and aspirational, the guiding principles of plans to end youth homelessness begin to frame the proposed approach. Guiding principles articulate the norms or ethics guiding stakeholders’ actions in this work. These should be made explicit and serve as guidelines for decision making.

The principles we propose to uphold through the work of the plan will guide the type of strategies and actions we aim to undertake. As such, these principles not only have to resonate locally, but they also have to align with the existing body of evidence on effective responses to youth homelessness.

Table 14: Guiding Principles Examples

Guiding Principles
  • Housing First approach
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Positive youth development
  • Individualized & youth-centred supports focused on prevention
  • Engaging youth
  • Family support
  • Building on successful existing initiatives
  • Collaboration
  • A proactive approach, focused on prevention
  • Shift from managing homelessness to preventing and ending homelessness
  • Housing First philosophy
  • System planning
  • Healthy transitions to adulthood
  • Data collection and information management
  • Youth voice
  • Diversity
  • Wise use of resources
  • Private sector involvement

Existing research has consistently affirmed several concepts to be foundational to good planning and practice. In this toolkit, we are highlighting a number of key concepts for you to consider as you develop the guiding principles that underpin your local approach to end youth homelessness. These are by no means the only options available; however, we strongly urge you to consider their applicability to your plan given the supporting evidence affirming their effectiveness. You are not limited to picking one principle to ground your plan – there is no reason why you cannot adopt a combination of the above, add to it and make it your own.

Housing First

Housing First as a philosophy emphasizes that everyone has the right to safe, secure and stable housing without any preconditions of readiness, with access to the supports needed to maintain it. As a programmatic intervention, Housing First can be an effective intervention for youth through appropriate adaptations focused on life skills development, meaningful engagement, access to education and employment, and strengthening social relations. For more on Housing First for youth, see link.

A Human Rights Approach

Youth plans generally set goals and standards for addressing homelessness, but rarely frame the issue in terms of human rights. The human rights approach would reframe ending youth homelessness as a long-term goal as a step towards realizing the right to adequate housing. Canada without Poverty provides an excellent guide to incorporating human rights in your plan. Building on the notion of the right to housing, consider linking your plan to other rights such as the right to education, personal security and privacy, equal access to justice and civil and political rights. In this case, you can make specific reference to human rights, articulate goals and standards in terms of human rights and ensure those responsible for implementing and executing the plan are trained in human rights. For more on human rights in planning, see link. Note that A Way Home is working with the COH and Canada Without Poverty to develop a human rights guide specific to youth homelessness community planning that will be launched in 2016.

Prevention-focused System Planning & Integration

The response to youth homelessness must be coordinated among the diverse agencies, governmental bodies and systems that youth need and/or access. System planning proposes that we build intervention responses to homelessness in a coordinated fashion to ensure best outcomes at the system level, versus a program-by-program basis. Because the homeless-serving system cannot solve youth homelessness on its own, a youth plan must necessarily address the roles of mainstream services in an integrated fashion, such as child welfare, education, health care, housing services and corrections. Similarly, integration at the policy level must be re-aligned to meet ending youth homelessness objectives. 

A prevention-focused system planning and integration approach to youth homelessness focuses on measures within the homeless-serving and mainstream systems at the service and policy levels to ensure that youth do not become homeless in the first place. When it does occur, responses are in place to ensure homeless is as brief as possible. Preventing youth homelessness has better long-term outcomes for youth, families and the community and is a more cost-effective approach than reactive interventions.

Cross-sectoral Collaboration

Ending youth homelessness is a collective responsibility achieved through collaborative action and solutions. Youth, government, academia, private, non-profit and faith sectors are directly impacted by youth homelessness and share responsibility for addressing it. Cross-sectoral collaboration and leadership will be essential to any sustained effort to address youth homelessness. By acknowledging good work already being done and building on existing knowledge, expertise, effective practices, partnerships and resources we can foster cross-sectoral collaboration further. Strong linkages and alignment with relevant policy levers can further system-level solutions with government as well.

Youth-centred Approach

Ending youth homelessness requires youth participation and shared decision making. The perspectives and voices of youth must shape proposed solutions. As such, youth should be engaged throughout all levels of planning, implementation and evaluation in a meaningful and productive manner.

Proposed interventions should be individualized, culturally appropriate, flexible and adaptable in response to the changing needs of youth. Young people at risk of and experiencing homelessness are not a homogeneous group; their diverse, complex and unique identities need to be recognized throughout. This includes the needs of Indigenous, immigrant and LGBTQ2S youth and youth with developmental disabilities, mental health and/or addictions issues.

Rather than simply moving young people toward independence, our approach should be tailored to their needs, preferences and developmental circumstances. Youth and their families must be supported and connected to ensure that whenever possible youth are able to stay with their families or with a caring, safe and nurturing adult. A comprehensive approach supports youth to empower themselves, form meaningful relationships with adults, build skills, develop leadership and contribute to their community as they transition to adulthood. As a strengths-based perspective, Positive Youth Development focuses on enhancing the social, cognitive, psychological and physical well-being of young people.