Making the Shift is a Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab with a mandate to contribute to the transformation of how we respond to youth homelessness through research and knowledge mobilization specific to youth homelessness prevention and housing stabilization.

Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MtS) is co-led by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University and A Way Home Canada.

Youth Homelessness is a Seemingly
Intractable Problem.

Historically, the Canadian response to youth homelessness has relied on a patchwork of emergency supports that, in reality, commonly leave young people exposed to trauma, criminal exploitation (including sex trafficking), and problematic drug use.

Relying on such a response is ineffective and expensive, with the annual cost to the economy estimated to be $7 billion.

The costs arising from youth homelessness to public systems and to wasted youth potential demonstrate the economic and social imperative to shift our approach from emergency services to sustained solutions focused on prevention and sustainable exits from homelessness.

MtS is a federally funded Networks of Centres of Excellence, with the goal of transforming how we respond to youth homelessness in Canada.

MtS is designed to affect a shift from the ad-hoc response to youth homelessness – centred on emergency services and time-limited supports – to a strategic and integrated system that prioritizes the prevention and ending of youth homelessness.

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With a five-year mandate, MtS’ singular goal is to:

conduct and mobilize quality research that supports governments, communities, and service providers to make the shift from managing the crisis of youth homelessness, to a focus on preventing and enabling sustainable exits from homelessness.

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A Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab

Youth homelessness is what we call a ‘wicked problem’; a complex and urgent policy challenge in need of a comprehensive solution. Wicked problems such as homelessness cannot be solved by a single profession, organization or even sector. To address such challenges there is a need for some shared agreement on the nature of the problem, and intense collaboration between groups to identify what works and for whom, and to sort out what we know and what we don’t. Given the seeming complexity of wicked problems, how can we imagine moving towards real solutions?

A key challenge that impedes an effective response to youth homelessness is that while we know much about its causes and conditions, we know much less about how to prevent it, and how to produce better outcomes for youth who have experienced homelessness. The work undertaken through MtS’ five research theme areas will assist end-users in government, foundations, communities, and service providers to make the shift from a crisis response to a focus on prevention and ending youth homelessness.

Social Innovation Laboratories (SIL) – also referred to as ‘design labs’ or ‘change labs’ – have emerged as a creative response to challenging social issues. SILs can be key drivers of systems transformation through helping to find solutions to complex problems, through research, program design, prototyping, demonstration projects and other means to identify potentially transformative policies, practices and processes. Such labs offer a place for experimentation and innovation through cross sectoral and cross disciplinary engagement and practices. With regards to addressing homelessness, the latter point is key: research can have a bigger impact on solutions to homelessness if researchers and academic institutions are deeply engaged in processes of collaboration with community partners – including ‘unusual suspects’ who may not traditionally have an explicit focus on homelessness – decision-makers in all orders of government and people with lived experience of youth homelessness.