Establishing an Evidence Base
To implement effective solutions, we must first understand the causes and consequences of homelessness. Toward this end, we have made significant contributions to the existing evidence base on homelessness.
For instance, in partnership with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, the COH has published three State of Homelessness in Canada (2013, 2014, 2016) reports. Within these reports, we estimate the national prevalence of homelessness and look critically at the progress made locally and nationally over the course of a year. The State of Homelessness reports are widely regarded as Canada’s most reputable estimates of homelessness.
In 2016, we conducted the largest-ever pan-Canadian study on youth homelessness in partnership with A Way Home Canada. With over 1,100 respondents, Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey provides an unprecedented understanding of the experiences of homeless youth. Follow-up surveys continue to give us insights into young people’s paths to homelessness.
Creating Shared Language
To develop collective solutions to homelessness, we need consistent vocabulary. What does it mean to be homeless in Canada? How does homelessness differ for youth and Indigenous Peoples? The COH, in collaboration with dozens of partners, has authored three definitions: the Canadian Definition of Homelessness, the Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness, and the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada.
Additionally, through A New Direction: Towards a Framework for Homelessness Prevention and the Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness, we have established a working definition and typology of homelessness prevention to provide a common language for preventive strategies in policy and practice.
All levels of government are responsible for creating favourable policy conditions so that on-the-ground responses to homelessness can be effective. For this reason, we published several policy briefs, including Child Welfare and Homelessness in Canada, Towards an Ontario Strategy to End Youth Homelessness, Leading the Way: Reimagining Federal Leadership on Preventing Homelessness and Mental Health Care for Homeless Youth: A Proposal for Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Leadership, Coordination, and Targeted Investment. We make policy recommendations for municipal, provincial/territorial, and federal governments and Indigenous leadership within these briefs.
Moving Research into Practice
Research is only useful when it can be translated into practice. Through our Making the Shift demonstration projects, we’ve implemented four prevention program models in communities across Canada and are conducting qualitative and quantitative data analysis to help expand our knowledge of innovative approaches to preventing and ending youth homelessness. Based on our learnings, we will develop tools and resources to help organizations implement prevention programs in their communities.
Further, through our social enterprise, Hub Solutions, we support communities, service providers, policymakers, funders, and other stakeholders to improve their responses to homelessness through research, evaluation, and design.
Building Sector Capacity
Opportunities for relevant training and professional development are scarce and don’t always meet staff needs. That’s why we developed the Homelessness Learning Hub in partnership with Reaching Home. Built on continuous consultations with the sector, the Homelessness Learning Hub offers free, self-paced trainings and other tools to support frontline staff and their managers in their day-to-day work.
The COH has advocated for a conceptual shift away from simply managing the problem of homelessness to a focus on prevention, and effective and sustainable exits from homelessness. In 2013, following the success of the At Home/Chez Soi project, the COH published Housing First in Canada: Supporting Communities to End Homelessness. This scholarship proved instrumental in helping communities make the shift to a Housing First approach.
In 2017, the COH released A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention. A New Direction argues for a drastic transformation of the status quo: a concerted effort to stop homelessness before it begins. Using international examples, the framework operationalizes the policies and practices necessary to successfully prevent homelessness. Above all, it emphasizes prevention within a human rights approach.
At the international level, the COH conducted a literature review on homelessness for the Government of Wales, focusing on homelessness prevention.
Over the coming years, the COH will expand its work to focus on the prevention of all forms of homelessness, particularly for Indigenous Peoples, seniors, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, Black Canadians, women, and single adults.
Focus on Youth Homelessness Prevention
Youth homelessness is distinct from adult homelessness, both in terms of its causes and consequences, but also in how we must consider and apply interventions. In 2013, the COH published the Coming of Age report to provide clear direction for how we must reimagine our response to youth, with a focus on prevention. Subsequently, the publication of A Safe and Decent Place to Live provided a framework for the adaptation of Housing First to meet the needs of youth. With considerable uptake in Canada, the United States and Europe, this framework was later built out into a program model guide and operations manual called THIS is Housing First for Youth.
Drawing upon A New Direction and insights from young people with lived experience, the COH published the Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness in 2018. The Roadmap clearly defines youth homelessness prevention, including a typology and common language for policy and practice. Additional program model guides, rooted in the principles found in the Roadmap, were developed on Family and Natural Supports, Youth Reconnect and Upstream Canada.
Inspiring a Global Shift
The COH has also been influential in inspiring a global shift in how we respond to youth homelessness. In 2019, the COH and A Way Home Canada launched the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MtS). With a five-year mandate, MtS’ vision is to establish Canada as the world leader in research and knowledge mobilization regarding effective solutions to preventing and ending youth homelessness. To date, MtS has funded 39 projects across Canada. Additionally, MtS supports 15 demonstration projects in 12 communities on Family and Natural Supports, Housing First for Youth Exiting Care, Upstream Canada and Housing First for Indigenous Youth.
Both funded research projects and demonstration projects showcase the power of collaboration between researchers and practitioners in identifying innovative and impactful solutions to youth homelessness. As research findings emerge, we develop evidence-based tools, resources, and policy documents to inform the implementation of effective strategies to prevent youth homelessness locally, nationally, and internationally.
In 2021, UN Economic Commission for Europe established the Toronto Centre of Excellence (TCE) on Youth Homelessness Prevention at York University. Co-led by the COH and A Way Home Canada, the TCE presents an important opportunity to expand our youth homelessness prevention work internationally.
Looking Ahead: Focus on Prevention
For over a decade, the COH has been working to establish itself as a global thought leader on solutions to homelessness, a producer of high-quality research, and an innovator in knowledge mobilization practices.
Our future work will place a sharpened and timely focus on preventive solutions to homelessness. We will continue to work collaboratively with our partners to learn how we can intervene earlier to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place and mobilize proven solutions that transform how we respond to homelessness.