Major homelessness prevention project will help young people upgrade education and skills

Canadian youth who are homeless now have hope for a better future thanks to almost $8-million in federal funding for homelessness prevention strategies announced April 25 during a special event at York University.

Above: From left, York University President-designate Rhonda Lenton, Faculty of Education Professor Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub, Melanie Redman, executive director of A Way Home Canada, MP for Spadina-Fort York Colin Vaughan, and Robert Haché, vice-president research and innovation at York U

The funding will establish the Skills Link Program to help young people in Ontario and Alberta who are homeless, or in danger of becoming homeless, get the education, job skills, work experience and training they need. It will be underpinned by a new knowledge mobilization initiative that will be launched by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness based at York University.

Adam Vaughan

Adam Vaughan, member of Parliament for Spadina-Fort York, announced the Skills Link program funding on behalf of the Patty Hajdu, minister of employment workforce development and labour.  “As we move toward truth and reconciliation in this the 150th year of experimenting with a country, we have much to learn and remember from the teaching of [Aboriginal] elders as we think about housing,” said Vaughan. “In talking to elders in Edmonton … shelter is seen as a place of healing. When you think about the role that shelter plays in the healing process, shelter becomes a place where you sleep and regenerate, recover from illness and escape the cold.”

Housing, said Vaughan, is an essential tool for healing and the funding for youth homelessness is part of a massive investment by the federal government to end a 30-year drought in housing funding. Initiatives such the Skills Link Program will offer desperately needed intervention strategies to get homeless youth into safer environments and help them heal, said Vaughan. He spoke again about that recent conversation with Aboriginal elders during which they referred to the new federal focus on housing and the effort to prevent youth homelessness as a way to “create more elders” or in other words, save lives. The project will also help the government track data and understand what works or doesn’t work when it comes to youth homelessness and federal housing strategies.

More than 1,300 youth and their families will take part in the project, which focuses on prevention of homelessness through early intervention and Housing First for Youth. Specifically, the project will be delivered through a partnership between national leaders on homelessness prevention including A Way Home Canada, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University, and the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, as well as the Provinces of Ontario and Alberta, and dozens of community partners.

“Through a unique partnership with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness  based at York University, the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, two provinces and dozens of community partners, the Making the Shift project will ensure that young people at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness achieve housing stability and have natural supports such as family that are essential as they receive support to stay in school or access training and employment,” said  Melanie Redman, executive director of A Way Home Canada.

The goal of the project, “Making the Shift: Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness Through Social Innovation,” is to ensure that young people have housing stability as well as family and other supports to stay in school or access training and employment.

In the first two years of the project, demonstration projects will take place in 10 Canadian cities: Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray.

Stephen Gaetz

Led by York University Professor Stephen Gaetz, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness will launch a Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab to oversee the demonstration projects and develop tools and resources to help other communities to do similar projects.  York University will receive $1.45 million of the federal funding to run the lab, which will focus on knowledge mobilization, to ensure prevention models and Housing First for Youth take root at the policy and practice levels.

“This project will not only enable over a thousand homeless youth to access education and employment, but will provide us with a much stronger evidence base about how to prevent youth homelessness and support young people who do experience homelessness to exit this situation,” said Gaetz. “It’s all about helping young people in a tough situation to move forward in their lives in a way that promotes wellness and the chance to succeed.”

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness issued a report recently that called for a major shift in addressing homelessness, to focus on prevention. This change in direction is important for young people in particular, according to the partners on the “Making the Shift” project for which funding was announced April 25, because becoming homeless for a sustained period may affect a young person’s health and wellbeing, their educational achievement and ultimately their ability to participate in the labour market.

“We are very pleased and proud to host this announcement at York University, as it represents not only a significant achievement for our researchers at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, but also because the ‘Making the Shift’ project is very much in line with our University’s mandate, mission and values,” said York University’s President-designate Rhonda Lenton. “This is a proactive, nationwide initiative that is entirely driven by communities; it highlights the potential of strategic research partnerships and collaborations between community organizations, universities and research hubs; and the project will have a very real impact on our communities, both locally and across the country.

President-designate Rhonda Lenton

“Today and since our founding, York University has been known for a commitment to accessible education and for producing research that responds to societal needs, so this project is a wonderful extension and affirmation of that commitment and heritage,” said Lenton.

York University has been working in the area of homelessness for more than a decade through the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homelessness Hub, under the leadership of Gaetz. The University made history by hosting the very first research conference on homelessness back in 2005. Three years later, the Canadian Homelessness Research Network was established to formally bring together researchers, governments, communities and people with lived experience of homelessness from across Canada in order to better mobilize research and increase its impact on policy and practice.

“Making the Shift is a prime example of how compelling evidence on models of youth homelessness prevention can inform policy and lead to a sound investment in the future for this vulnerable community,” said Vice-President Research & Innovation Robert Haché. “It is also a stellar example of collaboration and partnerships − core values at York University, which has been working in the area of homelessness for more than a decade. We are very pleased to be working together with A Way Home Canada, MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and the provinces of Ontario and Alberta in this important federally funded initiative.”