Making the Shift funds, conducts, prototypes, and mobilizes cutting-edge research to prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada.
As a social innovation lab, MtS uses the principles of co-creation, co-ownership, and deep collaboration between researchers, policymakers, service providers, and people with lived experience of youth homelessness to identify what works and for whom.
Networks of Centres of Excellence
Making the Shift contributes to the transformation of how we respond to youth homelessness through research and knowledge mobilization specific to youth homelessness prevention and housing stabilization.
Youth homelessness is a significant problem in Canada that disproportionately affects 2SLGBTQ+, Indigenous, Black, and newcomer youth. On any given night, between 6,000 and 7,000 young people are without a place to call home. Evidence-based solutions to adult homelessness like Housing First exist and are gaining traction nationally and internationally. Yet, youth homelessness has proven more complex due to the unique developmental stages that characterize adolescence. We know from research that youth who become homeless are at a much higher risk of criminal victimization, poor health and nutrition, mental health and addictions issues, human trafficking, and dropping out of high school, which sets them up for a life of adversity and exclusion from society. While resolving young people’s homelessness can be very challenging, there are promising solutions. One of these solutions is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
One of the key challenges Canada faces in addressing youth homelessness has been a reluctance to embrace the importance and potential of prevention. Our goal is to transform how services are delivered, policies are made, and systems are planned, placing a greater emphasis on early intervention and other prevention efforts that are designed to prevent young people from ever having to experience homelessness before they get the support they need.
Youth homelessness prevention refers to policies, practices, and interventions that either (1) reduce the likelihood that a young person will experience homelessness, or (2) provide youth experiencing homelessness with the necessary supports to stabilize their housing, improve their wellbeing, connect with community, and avoid re-entry into homelessness. Youth homelessness prevention thus necessitates the immediate provision of housing and supports for youth experiencing homelessness, or the immediate protection of housing, with supports, for youth at risk of homelessness. Youth homelessness prevention must be applied using a rights-based approach and address the unique needs of developing adolescents and young adults. Some promising prevention program models include Youth Reconnect, Upstream, Family and Natural Supports, and Shelter Diversion. In addition to preventing youth homelessness, Canada must address the needs of youth who are already experiencing homelessness. Housing First for Youth and other interventions that are tailored to the unique needs of young people are showing that the challenge of youth homelessness can be overcome. For more information on youth homelessness prevention, read the Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness. Youth homelessness prevention is important because prolonged exposure to homelessness can result in diminished health, mental health, and well-being. Moreover, we know from the national Point in Time count that 50% of all adults who experience homelessness had their first experience before they were 25, meaning that if we can better address youth homelessness through prevention, we have the potential of having a real impact on the broader problem of homelessness.
The Making the Shift vision began in 2017 with a community-research project funded by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy. This project, which continues today as the Demonstration Lab of Making the Shift, has developed, implemented, and evaluated four promising programs for youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The excitement and potential of this project, along with encouragement and support of York University, prompted co-leaders Dr. Stephen Gaetz (Canadian Observatory on Homelessness) and Melanie Redman (A Way Home Canada) to apply for Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. NCEs are mandated to develop an academically led research network that focuses on creating collaborative solutions to issues that are critical to Canadians and to the world. MtS officially incorporated as an NCE on February 27, 2019. In 2020, we successfully advocated to have York University (and Making the Shift as a partner) designated as a UNECE Charter Centre, creating a global platform to learn, share, and mobilize knowledge about the importance of prevention.
Making the Shift has an ambitious research agenda with research investment in provinces and territories across Canada.