January 2012: Youth Homelessness

Message from the Director General

Welcome to the second edition of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) Bulletin. The first edition in August 2011 was very well received – many thanks to everyone who provided feedback.

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This issue highlights research and promising practices on addressing youth homelessness which many of you identified as an important priority topic, either through your responses to the Research Priority Questionnaire sent out in the spring 2011, through discussions the Homelessness Partnering Secretariat (HP Sec) has had with some representatives from Community Advisory Boards (CABs) and Community Entities (CEs) in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, or through the community planning process that was completed last year in all 61 HPS communities. Please note that the HP Secretariat plans on having another discussion on priority topics in Western Canada in February 2012 and I trust that this discussion will also prove to be informative.

In addition, a Call for Proposals on youth homelessness research was just launched on January 3rd. We are also working on the third edition of the HPS Bulletin, which will focus on Promising Practices related to mental health and homelessness. In the meantime, please feel free to send us your ideas and suggestions – we want to hear from you! After all, these Bulletins are for your information needs and we want to make certain that they are informative and helpful.

Before closing, I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize all of the hard work undertaken by CABs and CEs in preparing their Community Plans for 2011-2014. This exercise is fundamental to the HPS community-based model and is designed to engage the broader community in addressing this complex issue. While it certainly is a challenging exercise, the information that comes out of this process is invaluable. For each community, the plans underscore where they have been, what they have accomplished and what's ahead over the next three years in addressing homelessness. On behalf of the Secretariat, I would like to thank the many dedicated community members who have been very successful in making this happen.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year,
Barbara Lawless, Director General

Call for Proposals (CFPs) on Youth Homelessness

In line with research priorities identified by the HPS Communities, in January 2012, the HPS launched a CFP for research on promising practices in preventing and reducing youth homelessness. Though research exists on youth homelessness, more extensive analysis and evidence-based promising practices are required to prevent and reduce homelessness in this group. The closing date for this CFP is February 29th, 2012.

To apply or to find out more, please visit the HPS website at www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/communities/homelessness/index.shtml.

Knowledge Dissemination and Research Priorities Questionnaire - Key Results

In May, we sent Community Advisory Boards (CABs), Regional Advisory Boards, Aboriginal CABs, and provinces and territories a questionnaire to increase our understanding of your research needs and to improve our information-sharing. This is what we heard:

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Research Gaps

The most significant homelessness research gaps to address over the next three years are:

  • Youth
  • Mental health and addiction issues
  • Women and families
  • Skills development
  • Promising practices and interventions
  • Pathways into and out of homelessness
  • Housing models and tailored support systems for at-risk groups

Knowledge Sharing

To learn about homelessness issues, you use:

  • Online resources
  • In-person meetings
  • Traditional media
  • Data sets

You would like:

  • A one-stop user-friendly website
  • More access to research
  • An information bulletin or regular emails
  • A homelessness community of practice to encourage collaboration between communities, government departments, NGOs and academics

Thank you again for participating. Your input is guiding the development of a forward-looking research agenda, a strategy for sharing information, and new Calls for Proposals.

Key Findings on HKD Youth Homelessness Projects

DISCLAIMER – The opinions and interpretations in the following websites are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada. Some of the websites are run by organizations that are not subject to the Official Languages Act and are available in only one official language.

Among other themes, the Homelessness Knowledge Development (HKD) stream of the HPS funds research related to preventing and reducing youth homelessness. Some research on youth homelessness involves youth either through interviews or through participatory research in which youth with experience of homelessness were involved in the design and implementation of the study. The examples that follow highlight research on youth homelessness designed and/or carried out with youth.

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Dr. Jeff Karabanow from Dalhousie University led a study, Working within the Formal and Informal Economies: How Homeless Youth survive in Neo-liberal Times (2009), where youth and service providers were interviewed to explore employment issues in the lives of homeless youth. From histories of abuse and trauma in the home or foster care, to current struggles with poverty, addictions and mental health, the study found that youth are remarkably resilient and want to leave street life. Although homeless youth are often excluded from the traditional labour market, they are innovative and find ways to survive. To help them find meaningful employment, the study recommends that programs focus on the following successful approaches:

  • Training that includes literacy, education, and basic life skills.
  • Let youth decide how and which services should be offered in an organisation.
  • Connect youth to youth-specific employment programs with self-directed activities.
  • Understand that youth make mistakes when trying to enter/re-enter the labour market.

A full copy of the report is available at: www.homelesshub.ca/ResourceFiles/m54yrdki.pdf

Eva's Initiatives developed another interesting approach in addressing youth homelessness. Their Family Reconnect Program (2011) focuses on helping youth to either return home or create more positive, healthy relationships with their families while living on their own. As part of this program, Eva's created the Reconnect Toolkit, an online resource for groups and communities interested in early intervention and prevention for homeless or at-risk youth. The Toolkit includes resources on how organisations can engage youth, what a staffing model looks like, how to be accessible, as well as an in-depth policies and procedures manual that can be used to replicate this highly successful program model.

The Reconnect Toolkit is available at: http://reconnecttoolkit.evasinitiatives.com/

Dr. Lynn McDonald and Julia Janes from the University of Toronto worked with formerly homeless youth as well as middle-aged and older adults to help them develop and deliver a knowledge exchange forum. The Homeless to Home forum, which brought together service providers and people with homelessness experiences, helped to create a homeless2home community action guide (2009).

Recommendations from the guide include:

  • Creating more youth-specific transitional housing with a variety of support options.
  • Providing sensitivity training for staff to support youth's goals in a respectful and productive way.
  • Creating 'safe zones' to support LGBT youth's self-esteem and emotional well-being.
  • Developing a youth 'mental wellness centre' geared toward youth in crisis.

A full copy of the report is available at: www.homelesshub.ca/resource/homeless-2-home

The Community Action Guide is available at: www.homelesshub.ca/resource/homeless-2-home

Promising Practices for Youth in Communities

In 2007, 55% of community plans identified youth as an important subpopulation within the homeless and at-risk populations, and a preliminary analysis of 2011-2014 plans reveals that again, more than half of all Designated Communities have identified a need to address youth homelessness. As part of the 2011-2014 Community Planning process, communities were asked to describe HPS-funded good practices that helped prevent and reduce homelessness. The following highlight some of these practices.

Continue reading Promising Practices for Youth in Communities

Okanagan Boys & Girls Clubs Scattered Site Suites (Kelowna, BC)

The Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs help youth who are ready to live independently gain essential life skills so that they can have their own lease and stay in their own rented housing. Recognizing there may be stigma or other barriers associated with renting to high-risk youth, this program:

  • Includes a housing support worker who helps youth access safe, affordable places to live.
  • Offers a critical 'lifeline' for landlords if problems occur.
  • Provides proactive life skills development, mentoring, and other practical help to promote healthier living and an increased likelihood of housing retention.

For more information please contact Diane Entwistle, Director of Operations, Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs 250-762-3914 or dentwistle@boysandgirlsclubs.ca

Project See Saw (Waterloo, ON)

Social Enterprise Effecting Social Action Waterloo (See Saw) is a partnership between two youth specific agencies in the Waterloo Region, Argus Residence for Young People (Argus) and Reaching Our Outdoor Friends (ROOF), who provide youth employment opportunities and job skills while generating revenue to support key initiatives and core services.

  • Argus operates an online thrift store GotToGetIt.Ca that hires youth who access the Argus Residence and gives them job training.
  • ROOF purchased equipment and materials (teeshirts, pins, key chains, puzzles, etc.) to help create Street Designs, a social enterprise where youth get skills and certifications for future jobs in graphic design, printing, advertising, promotion, sales, retail, and customer service.

For more information please contact Van Vilaysinh, Social Planning Associate, Region of Waterloo 519-575-4757 x5824 or vvilaysinh@regionofwaterloo.ca

Choices for Youth (St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador)

Since opening in Spring 2010, the Supportive Housing & Employment for Youth with Complex Needs Program has provided housing for youth aged 16-24, co-located with a basic literacy skills program, Youth at Promise. The program included homeless and at-risk youth in renovating the building where the program is located to give them practical skills, and continues to include them in energysaving retrofits of social housing throughout St. John's. The Youth at Promise program meets young people "where they are at" so that youth can set their own goals and are supported to achieve them. As well as dealing with educational challenges, youth in the program experience increased confidence and pride in their accomplishments.

For more information please contact Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director, Choices for Youth 709-754-0446 or sheldon@choicesforyouth.ca

Additional Studies Related to Youth Homelessness

HPS has collaborated on many research studies that help us understand why youth become homeless and what puts them at increased risk of homelessness.

Youth on the Street and Youth Involved in Child Welfare: Maltreatment, Mental Health and Substance Use is a collaborative study between the University of Toronto, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada along with partners from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Human Resources Skills Development Canada.

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Researchers looked at data from The Youth Pathways Project (2002-2006), and the Maltreatment and Adolescent Pathways Longitudinal Study (2008- 2009) to examine risk factors associated with concurrent mental health and substance abuse problems in three groups: street youth with a history of maltreatment, street youth with no history of child welfare involvement, and young people currently involved in the child welfare system. Results showed that:

  • All three groups had concurrent mental health and substance abuse problems but the highest rates were found in street youth with no history of child welfare involvement.
  • Intimate partner violence and homelessness were linked to concurrent mental health and substance abuse problems.
  • Current child welfare involvement appeared to be a protective factor.

To view or order a copy of the report, visit: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cm-vee/index-eng.php or contact abbyl.goldstein@utoronto.ca.

Enhanced Street Youth Surveillance Study (E-SYS), run by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), monitors the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections, blood borne infections and risk behaviours among street-involved youth aged 15 to 24. 2011 marks the sixth cycle of data collection and E-SYS is working with community partners in eight cities (Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Halifax).

During this cycle, PHAC worked with the HP Secretariat to examine the relationship between risk behaviours and homelessness. Preliminary results suggest that:

  • Certain risk factors (e.g., binge drinking, injection drug use, illicit or unconventional sources of income) were more prevalent among youth who are absolutely homeless compared to those youth with relatively secure housing.
  • Some of the same factors were prevalent among those with precarious housing, implying that while youth who are roofless experience the most severe risk factors, those youth with insecure housing face many of the same issues.
  • There is a need for more interventions targeted to street-involved youth with insecure housing.

For more information about E-SYS, please see the E-SYS website or contact lily.fang@phac-aspc.gc.ca.


In May, we kicked off a series on the At Home/Chez Soi project of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). A second Webinar followed in November and outlined challenges and lessons learned in setting up a participatory approach in the five project sites.

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The September Webinar featured Pathways Out of Homelessness: Regional Study 2011, which explored factors contributing to success in maintaining housing through one of BC Housing's homelessness programs in Metro Vancouver.

A Webinar in December on Community Data Canada looked at how organisations can access and use municipal- and neighbourhood-level data to inform local program and policy.

Upcoming Webinars will feature mental health, labour market integration, and outreach practices. If you wish to be added to the mailing list for future Webinars, or if you have missed one of the presentations and would like to hear the recording, please email us.

Other News

On November 8th, the Homelessness Working Group meeting of the National Housing Research Committee featured youth homelessness. A report from this session will be available on the Homeless Hub.

An E-Book highlighting current research on Canadian street youth is planned for completion in spring 2012. It will feature research on pathways into homelessness, street youth lifestyles, housing, health and mental health issues, substance use, income, labour market integration and justice issues. The free e-book will be shared with you and made available for download on the Homeless Hub.

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