I’d really like to thank Nan and the National Alliance to End Homelessness for convening this session, as well as my discussion-mates from the US, Australia and Canada, and all of you - for being here today. And I want to compliment the Alliance and the National Network for Youth for really bumping up the volume on youth homelessness throughout this conference and in the halls of power. It bodes well for our work ahead!I’m going to give you a very brief overview of youth homelessness in Canada and some of the responses – and touch on the key players in our effort (some of whom are here with us today).I have to preface what I’m going to say by telling you that we are a long way from ending youth homelessness in Canada; but we are more convinced than ever before that it is possible to do so, and you will hear from me & my colleagues about some of the promising seeds that have been planted in Canada, particularly in the last few years, which I believe will feed and sustain our accelerated efforts to understand, mobilize around and tackle youth homelessness and its underlying conditions.
CHRA (or ACHRU in French) was born during the 1960s to give Canada’s housing movement a united voice, to advocate for policy change, and to serve the needs of our members who span the housing spectrum. Our vision is that all Canadians have a place to call home – implying a broad, self-defined meaning of home (ie. It’s not just about housing). Increasingly, organizations serving the homeless have become part of our family and are helping us focus our efforts on ending homelessness. I’m volunteer president of CHRA, and am employed by one of its members, a homelessness committee that serves my province’s capital city of St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador.
In Canada, although the recent recession was not as severe as the one experienced by our US neighbours - for a wealthy nation such as ours, the presence of so much poverty and social exclusion, and the lack of a long-term national housing strategy (when we were once the nation the world came to for our affordable housing solutions) – hampers efforts to end homelessness.Homeless and at-risk youth have faced persistent barriers to their healthy development, their social and economic well-being, and their housing stability, regardless of the economic times we are in – although it is fair to say they are on the front lines of feeling the first impacts of a recession, and its later repercussions as governments move to cut program spending to rein in fiscal deficits.
We are a growing nation of 34.3 million people. Among our 12.4 million households – the vast majority of which are located in the southern latitudes of our northern nation – 1.5 million, or 13% of all households are counted in our 2006 census as being in core housing need – a measure that combines housing affordability, suitability and adequacy.The official estimate of Canada’s visible homeless population (and this is only an estimate) is 150,000 people; while advocates suggest this number is really closer to 300,000. There are many more Canadians who comprise the hidden homeless population, those who are couch-surfing, living with poverty, abuse, illness, disability, cultural discrimination, barriers to employment, institutionalization….Canada lacks a comprehensive measure of homelessness. As a case in point: for at least the last half-decade, the number of homeless youth has been estimated at 65,000. (Beware of numbers that never change, as it’s likely they are built on a shaky foundation.)Like the US and Australia, Canada is a federation and, in our case, provinces & territories largely define and administer social policy and programs related to youth. These include child welfare, housing, health, education, juvenile justice and to some extent, youth employment programs – although the federal government directly delivers youth employment programs, and provides funding to the provinces & territories to deliver the other social programs I’ve mentioned. In my view, Canada’s collective investment in its universal health care system and range of youth programs, provides an opportunity to shift and target these resources in a way that has not yet been fully contemplated towards the goal of ending youth homelessness.Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy, which provides $135M/year to 61 communities across Canada to develop and implement collaborative local homelessness plans, has been an important building block in our work to end homelessness. Although it does not include targets or timetables, nor a specific commitment to end youth homelessness, a recent study of the 61 plans reveals that the majority, 34, had identified youth homelessness as a priority – the most frequently-identified population, in fact.
Despite the lack of clarity in the numbers, youth organizations and many of their partners knew they were witnessing growth and complexity in the problem of youth homelessness over the last decade, and so in 2006, my east coast community of St. John’s worked with youth and local, regional and national partners to host Canada’s first national conference on youth homelessness – called Beyond the Street. 250 delegates focused on research and best practices from across the nation, and crafted a “Youth Homelessness Action Agenda”. Some of us suggested the first item in the plan be a call to end youth homelessness; but young people themselves (many who had experienced homelessness) prevailed in ensuring the action plan led with a call to recognize young people as citizens and residents of our country, who should be entitled to the rights and inclusion afforded others. As a follow up to the first summit in 2006, Raising the Roof, a national homelessness charity, convened another conference in 2008 to articulate solutions to youth homelessness which could guide the work ahead.Since 2006 there has been continuing, growing drumbeat of interest and action on youth homelessness, mostly led by national, regional and local community-based organizations in the youth and homelessness sectors.
I will briefly reference a couple of these leading groups by way of showing you an example of how we have found each other across this vast and sparsely populated nation, across regional differences, and across cultures, with limited resources – in order to learn together, transfer best practices, and mobilize to end youth homelessness.On the east coast, Choices for Youth, a non-profit youth-serving group isolated on island in the North Atlantic, has cut through the fog surrounding youth homelessness and combined its own evidence-based practices with those from Eva’s Initiatives in Toronto, Ontario (see blue & yellow logo in the centre of the map, below CHRA’s), and those of Warm-Up Winnipeg’s in Manitoba (see the green house on the Prairies), both innovative non-profits serving homeless youth. I’ll tell you more about them in a moment.For its part, Eva’s Initiatives has forged a unique national learning community of youth homelessness organizations (including Choices for Youth), which has provided the practical impetus for much of the national collaboration and transfer of effective approaches that is now happening on this issue.On the top right of the slide that’s Rachel Gray of Eva’s pictured with Allyson Marsolais of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, which is helping research networks and practitioners work together to shine a practical light on youth homelessness and its solutions.And in Alberta, Canada’s only province with a 10-year plan to end homelessness, the Calgary Homeless Foundation has recently completed Canada’s first community-wide plan to end youth homelessness.I’d like in some small way to honour the young people who have shaped and been part of these developments by drawing your attention to the photo at the top left of the slide (or north of the Arctic Circle for those of you who are still seeing this as a map!) – they are young people from cities across Canada who have experienced homelessness and who opened our first national youth homelessness conference in 2006 by sharing what their communities were doing to end homelessness and how they were part of the effort.
These next 2 slides show an example of the kind of ground-up, national collaboration that’s making a real difference in building our knowledge and understanding of how to end youth homelessness.Here, Choices for Youth’s first supportive housing community built by youth, for youth, was opened last year – led by 10 homeless and street involved youth through Choices’ Train for Trades initiative, which replicated Eva’s Phoenix in Toronto, supportive housing developed by young people employed by Eva’s Initiatives a few years earlier. As a result of Train for Trades, these young people no longer needed the supportive housing this building offers.
And in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a related initiative called Warm Up Winnipeg is training & employing Aboriginal youth, including former gang members, to complete energy retrofits for the city’s coldest, draftiest low income housing, in the very neighbourhoods that once feared them. These are real jobs with a real future, and the resulting energy savings are helping finance the social enterprise.Choices for Youth partnered with Warm Up Winnipeg to refine Train for Trades into a similar, sustainable social enterprise – and at the end of this year the young people will have completed 100 retrofits, while improving their social and economic well-being.These are just a couple related examples to underscore the joined-up action that is increasingly occurring in Canada. And each of these involves significant community-wide partnerships with government, labour, business, educators, foundations, and others. These are the promising seeds of the transformation we need to mobilize nationally.
To conclude, from CHRA’s perspective, here are the early steps on the road ahead for us:We are currently framing an evidence-informed national policy to end youth homelessness – it will be completed soon, and will guide our work.But a policy is lifeless if we don’t put it into action, or do so collaboratively with others. We will take action together with allies to ensure Canada ends youth homelessness as part of a broader national strategy to end all forms of homelessness.We are also forming a national network of Canada’s 61 Homelessness Partnering Strategy communities – and it will be a new community of practice designed to link, lift and leverage their individual plans to end homelessness and reinforce their work on youth homelessness. We consulted the communities, and brought them together this May for a first meeting, and I can tell you, this will be an exciting and powerful vehicle for transformative yet pragmatic change across the nation.And finally, we need to look outward, and continue to build our international alliances to understand and explore different perspectives from our own in relation to youth homelessness. Today’s dialogue is an example we should build upon – CHRA is willing.Thank you!
6.13 Bruce Pearce
Perspectives From Canada:Ending Youth Homelessness<br />Bruce Pearce<br />President, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association <br />International Models for Ending Youth HomelessnessNational Alliance to End Homelessness Conference<br />July 15, 2011<br />Washington, D.C.<br />
CHRA … a voice for the full range of<br />affordable housing and homelessness<br />issues and solutions in Canada<br />
Canada’s recession not as severe as US’s, but…<br />Poverty, social exclusion & lack of a long-term national housing strategy hamper efforts to end homelessness.<br />Homeless & at-risk youth face persistent barriers to full participation in Canadian society (during boomtime or recession).<br />
34.3 million Canadians (2011)<br />12.4 million households<br />1.5 million households in ‘core housing need’ according to 2006 census (13% of all households)<br />150,000-300,000 visible homeless Canadians (2005); many more hidden homeless<br />65,000 homeless youth; many more at-risk<br />$135M/yr Homelessness Partnering Strategy<br />No national youth strategy; youth often a local priority (HPS $ flows through 61 community plans)<br />
Trains & employs Aboriginal youth in sustainable, family-supporting work.<br />Prevents homelessness. Reduces poverty in the community. <br />Train for Trades is now a similar social enterprise. <br />
The road ahead:<br />Frame a national policy to end youth homelessness.<br />Put it into action, together. <br />Consolidate a national network of communities.<br />Continue international alliance-building<br />