Enabling Health, Well-being, and Inclusion

A significant body of literature demonstrates that homelessness is associated with poor health. Additionally, youth experiencing homelessness are also susceptible to significant mental health challenges, including not only conditions such as PTSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder but also high levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, paranoia, psychoticism, and suicidality.

Problematic substance use is both a cause and a consequence of the experience of youth homelessness, with research attesting to higher rates of substance use disorders amongst this population. Focusing on prevention and housing stabilization necessarily requires paying attention to interventions and practices that promote health, well-being, and inclusion. The World Health Organization identifies that complete health expands beyond the absence of disease and infirmity to include physical, mental, and social well-being. Embedded in a social determinants of health perspective, this theme will support both prevention and sustainable exits from homelessness by focusing on both factors that undermine physical and mental health, and those approaches, policies and interventions that contribute to positive outcomes.

Research sub-themes

Enhancing Well-being

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have argued that “at minimum, well-being includes the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning.” This sub-theme informs research on prevention and housing stabilization interventions by focusing on a range of domains including: resilience; physical health; mental health; substance use; social connections (healthy relations with family and friends, natural supports); and emotional well-being.

Substance Use Disorders and Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a humane, client-centred, and evidence-based approach to working with people who use substances. MtS will identify and evaluate best practices and work towards the development of a harm reduction policy and practice framework for youth. This will entail a cross-system approach, focused on health care, criminal justice, and schools.

Diversity and Inclusion

While all youth who are homeless experience exclusion, Indigenous, racialized, LGBTQ2S youth, and those who experience mental illness are particularly vulnerable because of ongoing discrimination. This sub-theme investigates policy and practice interventions that produce positive, inclusionary outcomes for youth at risk of or who experience homelessness, especially for those whose exclusion is intersectional.

Integrated Services Models as a Support for Prevention and Housing Stabilization

One of the challenges that many young people face is accessing appropriate health, mental health, and addictions supports. This sub-theme explores promising examples of how to increase supports for young people who experience or are at risk of homelessness, including integrated service centres oriented to youth offering health, mental health, and well-being supports.

Supporting Young People with Special Needs

While estimates vary widely, there is evidence that young people who are homeless suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) at higher rates than the general population. This sub-theme explores promising interventions that help identify youth with IDDs and can contribute to their housing stabilization and well-being.