Ontario needs strategy to end youth homelessness: Report

Ontario needs a youth homelessness strategy that focuses on prevention and on moving youth out of the shelter system and into stable housing as quickly as possible, says a national homelessness think tank.

The provincial framework to end youth homelessness, to be released Thursday by York University’s Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, calls on the province to lead, direct and fund the expansion of successful pilot projects and step up inter-ministerial initiatives to tackle the problem.

“The time is right for the province of Ontario to play a more proactive role in helping communities move from ‘managing’ the crisis, to preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness,” says the report. “The province of Ontario should make an investment with the intent of ending youth homelessness by 2026.”

The observatory’s similar call on the new Liberal government in Ottawa earlier this year, recommends an annual commitment of $16.5 million in federal funds.

A provincial allocation of an additional $5 million would be appropriate, says the observatory’s Stephen Gaetz, who co-authored the Ontario report with Melanie Redman of A Way Home, a national coalition dedicated to ending youth homelessness.

“A strategy to address youth homelessness will not simply result in fewer people who experience homelessness, but rather, contribute to the longer-term reduction in poverty within the province,” says the report.

Provincial investment should focus on helping 10 new communities annually with two-year funding agreements so they can plan and implement local strategies. As the strategies kick in, knowledge and experience can be shared regionally to build a province-wide base of “best practices,” the report says.

“If we wait for communities one-by-one-by-one to come up with a clever idea, it will be 100 years or more before we end youth homelessness,” Gaetz said in an interview.

Examples of effective homelessness prevention strategies highlighted in the report, include Family Reconnect, a Toronto-based program which helps homeless youth return to their families.

The program has been operating since 2001 and also responds to families before a young person becomes homeless.

It is run by Eva’s Initiatives, which also operates two shelters, a transitional housing program, an employment readiness centre and other supports for homeless youth.

Despite Family Reconnect’s success in helping more than 1,000 youth return home or avoid becoming homeless in the first place, it is still the only program of its kind in the province, says Eva’s Executive Director Maria Crawford.

“We have to fundraise to keep this program going,” she says. “This should be a core service.”

The agency’s annual fundraiser is June 9 at Evergreen Brickworks.

Emily Wright, 31, says Eva’s Phoenix transitional housing program saved her life a decade ago.

Suffering from mental health problems and addicted to crack, Wright spent almost a year on Toronto streets before she heard about Eva’s.

“When I called CAMH, they had a three-year wait for mental health services. I got help from Eva’s right away,” Wright says.

“Ontario needs to support more programs like Eva’s that take a harm reduction approach, that sees homeless youth as individuals and that realizes they can do more than just minimum wage jobs.”

Through Eva’s, Wright beat her addiction, found stable housing and completed her BA in early childhood education. Since 2013, she has been working as an early childhood educator for the Toronto District School Board and regularly speaks to school children about mental health.

Ontario’s recent budget commitment to build 1,500 supportive housing units over the next three years and a new youth employment program that links employers with homeless youth are the types of support needed to move youth quickly out of emergency shelters, the report says.

The report praises a new inter-ministerial working group aimed at reducing homelessness for people leaving provincially-funded institutions such as hospitals, jails, youth justice institutions, child protection and domestic violence shelters.

But it says the province should look at other inter-ministerial collaborations.

A spokesman for Housing Minister Ted McMeekin said Ontario’s 10-year goal to eliminate homelessness has already identified homeless youth as one of four priorities and welcomes the Observatory report’s suggestions.

“When it comes to addressing youth homelessness, collaboration is key,” said Mark Cripps. “Interventions need to be co-ordinated, involving multiple levels of government, ministries and service systems and be informed by youth with lived experience.”

Retrieved from the Toronto Star; written by Laurie Monsebraaten

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