This blog post is the fifth part of the Eva’s Innovation Lab Spotlight series   

The conclusion of Eva’s National Housing Strategy Solutions Lab has identified several promising interventions expected to expedite and sustain young people’s exit from homelessness and housing precarity.

First, one must understand why young people are experiencing homelessness and how they can exit it. As our previous post explains, the key to predicting young people’s risk of experiencing homelessness is the Snowball Effect and the Opportunity Gap. In this post, we will highlight some promising interventions that will address the Snowball Effect’s resource gaps,  increase opportunities, foster interdependence and connection as critical ways we can support exits from youth homelessness.

Image of peer researcher smiling towards camera

Kristen, peer researcher on the CMHC Solutions Lab, pictured here in the Eva’s Phoenix location

The Importance of Interdependence

To sustain exits from homelessness, we know that fostering interdependence is important. The health of a young person’s relationships, connections, and communities (i.e., their web of interdependence) is vital to the young person’s mental and physical well-being. Public health and adolescent development research support the finding that social ties and connections are drivers of a sense of belonging and well-being.

Connection and community are especially needed for young people who experience marginalization due to their identities. For young people who identify as LGBTQI2S+, finding a community (e.g., a LGBTQI2S+ youth group) that affirms their identity can be life-saving for their mental health.

In the absence of family or community supports, the help of a single caring person can still make a significant difference. We interviewed one young person who was able to navigate the social service systems thanks to the help of an acquaintance’s parent. Though connections like these (what sociologists call ‘weak ties’) are distant, they can help a young person find their way through complex systems before the young person connects with formal supports (e.g., a youth worker at a shelter).

Strong, healthy social bonds not only provide people with emotional connections that people need; they also give people access to significantly more support and resources. The importance of interdependence speaks to the vital role healthy connections and resilient communities can play in dampening the effects of the Opportunity Gap and slowing the Snowball Effect.

Promising Interventions: The Snowball Effect

In order to address the resource gaps of the Snowball Effect, where one setback can spiral into outsized effects, both immediate and structural change is needed. To help the young people who currently face homelessness and housing precarity, we have designed interventions that address the barriers they said made their experiences of homelessness worse or prevented their exit into stability.

  •  Safe, Affordable Transportation

For many young people, the lack of safe, affordable, and reliable transportation was a barrier for those trying to access health services, get to school exams, and show up on time for their jobs.

Interventions to help young people get to where they need to go might include; a partnership with a ride-sharing company (e.g., Lyft) that would provide young people with ride vouchers or a sponsored monthly transit pass program that provides free rides for young people in need (e.g., a program that reduces the TTC’s low-income transit fare cost to free).

  •  Youth-Centred Services and Systems

Another challenge in accessing resources is, knowing about them when you most need them. Many of the young people Eva’s worked with for this project, frequently had not known about emergency services available to help them (e.g., shelters). It was through a caring adult or being in the right place at the right time (e.g., sleeping outside of a social assistance office building) that connected them into the services they needed. So we asked, how could we improve awareness so that young people know about the help available when they need it?

Interventions that might help young people access services in a timely fashion include; mobile intake processes or kiosks set up in places that young people may first turn to but often do not have intake workers on staff (e.g., 24-hour fast-food restaurants, libraries, and transportation hubs).

  • Youth-specific Public Policy

Young people experiencing homelessness also need changes to public policy so that it prioritizes their unique needs. This is often lost in housing strategies focused on adults. Young people face all the barriers of adults experiencing homelessness, with the added complexity of growing up. As such, more intensive supports and resources are needed for young people so that they can realize their bright futures.

Promising Interventions: The Opportunity Gap

When it comes to increasing opportunities available to young people experiencing homelessness, there are a number of options spanning from immediate housing needs to longer term economic mobility through home equity and employment.

  • Short-term Housing Options

Interventions focused on increasing housing options included short-term solutions like taking advantage of Toronto’s two million empty bedrooms (often in homes of older adults who have not downsized). With this existing housing repurposed, one could expand matchmaking host home programs that pair vetted volunteer hosts with young people in need of a place to stay.

Such programs currently exist as Night Stop programs for short stays and through programs like Toronto Home Share for stays of many months.

Alternative Home Ownership Models

Home ownership, though not without risks, is one of the steadfast ways Canadians secure their financial futures. Interesting housing ownership models, like that of Options for Homes, help people who need it with the down payment needed to secure a home. The federal government has launched a similar down payment assistance program in exchange for up to 10% of the equity in one’s first home. To address the needs of young people with experience of homelessness, an intensive down payment assistance plan that fronts much more than 10% of the down payment could be a significant lever in helping young people secure their own financial futures and break the housing precarity loop that can persist for generations.

  • De-Stigmatizing Shelters

Longer term work needs to be done around de-stigmatizing shelters and those that use them. Starting with Eva’s and our sector, employers might use lived experience to satisfy job qualifications, similar to educational prerequisites. Young people with experience of homelessness and who have used shelters face barriers and discrimination in employment and other areas; as a sector, we should not add to those barriers.

Promising Interventions: The Importance of Interdependence

Connection and community are important for all of us and especially for young people experiencing homelessness. There are a few easy shortcuts for helping young people build healthy relationships. Programs like Eva’s Family Reconnect program are an essential start. Family Reconnect provides counselling to young people at Eva’s and their natural and chosen families in hopes of improving those relationships.

Programs and communities that support young people who are marginalized for their identities (e.g., LGBTQI2S+, Black youth, Indigenous youth) are valuable ways that we can support, mentor, and rally around young people when they need it. Like any of us, young people need people in their life who care deeply about them.

What’s Next

Some of these interventions are already being done in other cities, by other organizations, or by Eva’s ourselves. Unfortunately, there is more need than current services available. So, by working with partners, it is Eva’s hope to move forward some of these promising practices, programs, and policies. Young people have told us what they need and it requires all of us to come together to show up for them.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

This project entitled Journeys In and Out: Youth Homelessness Solutions Lab received funding from the National Housing Strategy under the NHS Solutions Labs, however, the views expressed are the personal views of the author and CMHC accepts no responsibility for them.