It is time for a new approach to youth homelessness – one that is proactive, collaborative, and rights-based, a new report from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada concludes.
The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness, published Tuesday, provides a clear definition of youth homelessness prevention, offers a framework and common language for preventative policy and practice, and showcases practical examples of prevention-based solutions from around the world.
Across the country, in consultations and collected data, it is evident that it is taking too long to respond to youth homelessness. The report shows that 40 per cent of young people who were homeless had their first experience of leaving home before they were 16 years old. It also shows that 50 per cent of homeless adults had their first experience of homelessness before the age of 25. Taken together, the figures clearly show young people are not able to “bootstrap” themselves out of homelessness.
The report also shows the high cost of current approaches to homelessness, says Faculty of Education Professor Stephen Gaetz, president of the COH, a national research institute based at York University, and a co-author of the report.
“While emergency supports are both necessary and well-meaning, they do little to effectively prevent, reduce, or end youths’ experiences of homelessness,” said Gaetz. “Relying on a crisis response is not only ineffective, but expensive, with the annual cost to the economy estimated to be $7 billion.”
Co-author Melanie Redman, president of A Way Home Canada, says the urgency for preventative measures to homelessness is clear.
“One of the main barriers to making the shift to prevention is that up until now we have not had a shared language concerning prevention. The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness is designed to give us a way to think and talk about prevention,” said Redman. “Communities and all orders of government are ready to make the shift to prevention, and this report provides practical tools to make that happen.”
But who is responsible for preventing youth homelessness? In the report, the authors emphasize the need for a cross-departmental approach with Housing, Education, Child Welfare, Health, Justice, and other government ministries and departments. This interaction could proactively identify and support youth at risk of homelessness within public systems, to ensure all young people can access safe, affordable, and permanent housing, the report said.
Borrowing from a public health model of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention, the authors articulate a roadmap for youth homelessness prevention that provides various stakeholders with action-based directives.They identify six elements crtical to prevention: structural prevention, systems prevention, early intervention, eviction prevention, housing stabilization, and, significantly, the Duty to Assist. Building on Welsh legislation, the proposed Duty to Assist legislation creates statutory responsibility to help youth at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness. Duty to Assist legislation would impose a legal duty on the Canadian government to ensure that young people are provided with information, advice, and housing-led supports to avoid an experience of homelessness, or to make that experience as brief as possible.
“We have a critical opportunity to actualize housing as a human right if we invest in the legislative and policy solutions we know prevent youth homelessness,” says co-author Kaitlin Schwan, a senior researcher at the COH.
The report offers extensive recommendations for how government departments and ministries working directly with youth can prevent youth homelessness, in partnership with communities, social services, and other key stakeholders to achieve better long-term outcomes for all young people in Canada.