The whole report is heartbreaking to read but I recommend you read all of it. In fact, the post took me hours to finish because I struggled to identify what aspects were the most important based on my experience and what to highlight. One day, I arranged a meeting with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) counsellors and social workers, Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) Mental Health and Substance Use counsellors, supervisors, and managers, and Health Connections representative where it was confirmed in my meeting that I would encounter conflicts in the mental health system if I was seeking family counselling for family trauma. This is a huge gap that desperately needs to be addressed because it destroys families and the natural supports for our children. Click here to read the full article or excerpts below.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? ADDRESSING YOUTH HOMELESSNESS IN CANADA
This report clearly demonstrates that with respect to youth homelessness, we are waiting much too long to intervene. We cannot end youth homelessness without stopping the flow into homelessness – this means focusing on prevention. It is clear that our efforts need to shift from a prolonged crisis response to ensuring that each young person’s experience of homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring. There are several key components to this work:
• Family First – Family First supports young people at risk of homelessness through family reconnection, using case management supports to help mediate conflicts, strengthen relationships, and nurture natural supports. This assists young people to remain in their communities, near schools, peers, and families.
• Early intervention – Place-based early intervention programs bring services and supports directly to young people through school, community centres, help lines, and centralized intake. Focused on intervening early for youth at risk, early intervention programs employ a case management approach that offers family supports, housing options, and educational and employment supports.
MANY HOMELESS YOUTH CYCLE IN AND OUT OF HOMELESSNESS, SCHOOL, AND WORK. WE MUST APPROACH EACH ONE OF THESE CYCLES AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PUT PREVENTION STRATEGIES IN PLACE AND LEVERAGE THE STRENGTHS OF THESE YOUTH
• School-community partnerships – School-based prevention approaches can help the education system identify and quickly intervene when young people are at risk of homelessness or dropping out of school. These programs provide the necessary supports to reduce these risks, strengthen families, and keep youth in place. Typically based on collaborations between schools and local community services, these partnerships require a coordinated and strategic systems approach.
• Transitional supports for young people leaving care – To reduce the risk that young people transitioning from care become homeless, we need to do more than reform child protection laws or extend the age of care. Effective strategies must involve partnerships between government, child protection services, and experienced community-based service providers to transform the system for these youth.
Housing First for Youth
Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) adapts the successful Housing First model to meet the needs of developing adolescents and young adults. As a program intervention, it means moving youth out of homelessness as quickly as possible with no preconditions. Young people are provided with a range of housing options, including returning home (with supports), supportive housing, transitional housing, and scattered site independent living. Key to this approach is that young people are provided with a range of supports that will help them maintain housing, learn life skills, have positive relationships with peers and adults, and re-engage with school, employment training, and/or employment. Shifting to HF4Y means providing homeless youth with the same housing and wrap-around supports that would help any young person make a successful transition to adulthood.
Our research findings demonstrate that the drivers of youth homelessness include family breakdown, interpersonal violence, housing instability, mental health and addictions issues, and problematic transitions from government institutions such as child protection. This means that the causes and conditions of youth homelessness touch on many key institutions in society, including healthcare, education, child protection, justice, and employment supports, all in addition to housing. To address youth homelessness, federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal governments must take an integrated systems approach from within government. In other words, youth homelessness cannot be tackled by a single ministry or department.
As opposed to a fragmented collection of services, an integrated systems response requires that programs, services, and service delivery systems are organized at every level – from policy, to intake, to service provision, to client flow – based on the needs of the young person.
A key way to implement an integrated systems response is to develop a community plan to prevent and end youth homelessness. The most effective approach is to use a ‘collective impact’ approach through engaging community leaders, service providers, institutions (e.g., health care, justice), different orders of government, funders, the non-profit and private sectors, and people affected by homelessness. In developing any plan to end youth homelessness, youth with lived experience must be part of the planning process.
A COMPREHENSIVE COMMUNITY PLAN TO PREVENT AND END YOUTH HOMELESSNESS IS ONE THAT IS INCLUSIVE IN ITS PROCESS, STRATEGIC IN ITS OBJECTIVES, SETS REAL AND MEASURABLE TARGETS FOR CHANGE, IS CLEAR TO ALL STAKEHOLDERS, AND LEADS TO REAL CHANGES IN YOUNG PEOPLE’S LIVES. A WAY HOME CANADA HAS DEVELOPED A COMPREHENSIVE COMMUNITY PLANNING TOOLKIT TO SUPPORT THIS WORK.
Addressing Educational Challenges
Our report demonstrates a very high drop out rate among homeless youth, despite most of these youth wanting to attend school. More must be done to support young people who experience homelessness to reengage in school and achieve success. This includes ensuring that necessary supports are in place for those young people who are marginalized because of learning disabilities or bullying. Schools must provide programmatic supports for youth who are experiencing homelessness, as well as coordinate with community agencies to ensure that youth have the supports needed to quickly exit homelessness. If we want positive, long-term benefits for young people who have experienced homelessness, we have to help them get back to school and succeed in the school system.
Fostering Resilience and Mental Health Supports
Our report documents the severe mental health risks that youth without housing face in Canada. However, our data also reveals that homeless youth have remarkable resources. We must foster the resilience of these youth, leverage their assets, and mitigate the mental health risks posed by life on the streets. Key recommendations include:
• We must intervene before youth become homeless given the strong connections between mental health risk, child protection involvement, and exposure to violence prior to becoming homelessness.
• We must rapidly mobilize early interventions for youth given that the longer youth are on the streets, the worse their mental health outcomes.
• Mental health supports for racialized and Indigenous youth must be culturally relevant and account for the systemic discrimination faced by these groups.
• We must develop interventions that are tailored to meet the high mental health risks experienced by LGBTQ2S youth. Tailored approaches might include connecting youth with LGBTQ2S-positive communities and spaces.
• Services must be developed to address the unique and greater needs female youth are facing.
Perhaps most importantly, our findings highlight that mental health and addictions issues among homeless youth are driven by experiences of violence, marginalization, and poverty. If we hope to address these mental health challenges, we must address the structural and systemic drivers of youth homelessness.
Fortifying Natural Supports
Positive relations with family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, and meaningful adults are all assets that help young people move into adulthood in a healthy way. Our study found that many homeless youth stay connected with these ‘natural supports’ while homeless, and that these supports are important to them. Many youth indicated they want improved relationships with family members. It is important that those helping young people who are homeless see the value in helping young people reconnect with their families and communities. These connections can be instrumental in helping young people survive on the streets and move out of homelessness.