What are the common pathways leading youth into and out of homelessness? This is the question that guides a new research study in Winnipeg, Manitoba. By understanding these pathways, the study hopes to address barriers facing homeless youth and ultimately lead to a more collaborative system. Read the full report.
Youth who have experienced homelessness were interviewed to develop timelines of their lives, identifying key systems interactions and their life circumstances during these interactions. The majority of youth in the study had, at one time or another, been involved with Child and Family Services (CFS). Instability and inadequate transitions from care under CFS and the lack of preparation for adulthood were reported by the youth to be directly related to subsequent homelessness. There were other common systemic interactions that were experienced by the youth including: interactions with the justice system, employment and income assistance, health and mental health and addictions services, and housing services.
The study also interviewed individuals from various government departments and community-based organizations that serve youth. Case studies for the most common type of system interaction were developed and recommendations were made to address the current barriers. Some of these recommendations are listed below:
- CFS should end the automatic termination of care at 18 and give youth the choice to continue to receive services until the age of 25. Youth exiting CFS need clear departure planning including communication about which agencies will assume responsibility for supporting the individual.
- The process of moving from the child and youth system to the adult system should be managed gradually with mandated transitional supports. For example, youth should be connected with a range of educational options, and, they should provide support planning for sufficient income in adulthood, appropriate housing, and stable, capable supports based on the intensity required. For this to happen, such programs must be created in a truly collaborative manner, recognizing the expertise of youth-serving agencies and youth themselves to identify potential barriers.
- Youth at risk of homelessness need additional financial support for appropriate housing. Eligibility for these supports should not be based on a diagnosis or extensions of care, and should not come with work requirements.
- Funding from government to increase the supply of housing specifically for youth is needed.
- Diversionary systems, including the drug treatment court, mental health court, and restorative justice programs are under-utilized and youth often enter jail for minor crimes or because of underlying mental health or addition issues. Additionally, for many youth their involvement with the justice system results in even greater difficulty accessing appropriate housing after their release.
- Youth are reluctant to use conventional mental health and health services due to inaccessibility, fear, and mistrust. When they do use emergency services, the experience is often negative which only amplifies these feelings. Mental health supports should include trauma-informed approached and be designed to foster trust and allow youth to express themselves. Finally, further collaboration between clinicians or other organizations with mental health expertise is needed for things like risk management, treatment planning and outreach.