How Eva’s Solutions Lab on Youth Homelessness Upends the Entrepreneurial “Move Fast and Break Things” Ethos

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s well-known motto of “move fast and break things” may work for entrepreneurs building new app features but a different take on innovation is needed when working with young people experiencing homelessness: move intentionally and fix things.

That’s the belief behind Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth’s Journeys In and Out: Youth Homelessness Solutions Lab, which launched April 2018. The program is a new social innovation solutions lab seeking to better understand young people’s journeys into and out of experiences of homelessness and housing precarity in Toronto and other large Canadian cities.

By combining human-centred design and participatory action research methods, the Solutions Lab will contribute to knowledge on current program and policy gaps in the youth homelessness field and propose prototypes for potential solutions.

This work is necessary as there are still large gaps in our understanding of precarious housing and homelessness in Toronto, particularly amongst young people. According to the most recent Toronto Housing Market Analysis reported by the City of Toronto (January 2019), data are not available on reasons for migration into or out of the city or the role of housing affordability in influencing these movements into and out of the city’s census metropolitan areas.

Throughout the process, Eva’s project team is taking deliberate and intentional steps to structure safety for young people involved in interviews and journey mapping activities. By working closely with Dr. Vikki Reynolds, a registered clinical counsellor and activist, the team is developing an innovative resiliency-based interview model. Using Dr. Reynolds’ model as a basis, the interview toolkit will be co-designed by key stakeholders including frontline staff, academic researchers from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, service designers from Deloitte Doblin, and young people with lived experience. Fundamental to the Solutions Lab process, the interview tools being co-designed by many diverse stakeholders will ensure that the design and use of these tools are truly “human-centred”, reflecting the real needs and desires of the young people who will use them to tell their stories.

Journeys In and Out is one of 11 innovative housing proposals that received funding from Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) first annual National Housing Strategy Solutions Lab initiative to ensure that more Canadians have access to affordable housing that meets their unique needs, by first tackling the roots of complex housing problems.

Innovation is often best perceived to be rapid and disruptive. However, with our collaborative and interdisciplinary methods and processes, Eva’s sees value in innovating at a more intentional pace with the broader aim of fixing systemic challenges and developing interventions that respond to stated needs of young people with lived experience of homelessness.

Mark Zuckerberg could take note.