New partnership is shifting approach to youth homelessness by emphasizing prevention


TORONTO, May 23, 2019 – A new initiative to transform how we respond to youth homelessness will bring academic research and community expertise together to shift the focus from simply providing emergency housing to preventing young people from becoming homeless in the first place.

The  Making the Shift – Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MtS) is being led jointly by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada. It received a $17.9-million commitment from the Government of Canada earlier this year through the Networks of Centres of Excellence program. The network partners spoke about MtS at York University today, along with Adam Vaughan, MP for Spadina-Fort York and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

Based at York University, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) conducts and mobilizes homelessness research from across Canada and beyond. A Way Home Canada is a national coalition reimagining solutions to youth homelessness through transformations in policy, planning and practice. Working as a collaborative partnership, the two organizations will research the challenges in addressing youth homelessness, design policy and practice that is driven by evidence and – within five years – provide communities with the tools they need to prevent youth homelessness.

In Canada, 35,000 to 40,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 24 experience homelessness over the course of a year; on any given night there are at least 6,000. The current approach of providing ad hoc emergency services and support for a limited time leaves young people vulnerable to further trauma, criminal exploitation, poor health and social and economic exclusion, says Stephen Gaetz, CEO and President, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) and Scientific Director of the new MtS network. It is not only an ineffective approach, Gaetz says, but emergency services cost an estimated $7 billion a year annually.

“We know the best way to reduce the number of homeless youths is to provide them with the supports they need to prevent them from falling into homelessness in the first place, and if they do become homeless, to get them into stable housing as quickly as possible,” says Gaetz, a professor in York’s Faculty of Education. “We need to enhance our understanding of what works, why it works, for whom and in what contexts. To do this, we will collaborate with community partners, all levels of government and, most importantly, people who have firsthand experience of youth homelessness.”

Research and knowledge mobilization efforts will focus on youth homelessness and sustainable exits from it, paying particular attention to Indigenous youth and LGBTQ2S youth, who are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

“We will use the knowledge generated through this research to transform the systems that drive young people into homelessness,” says Melanie Redman, CEO and President, A Way Home Canada, and Partnership and Implementation Director for the MtS network. “As a national coalition, we can bring organizations, governments and communities together to align their strategies and resources, so we can have a real impact on preventing and ending youth homelessness.”

The MtS network will mobilize community workers, government, charitable funders, young people and researchers from many universities across Canada to work together on a number of research themes and priority projects. These include, for example:

  • Strategies to prevent young people who are leaving child protection services or institutional settings from becoming homeless
  • Supports to youths and their families to help them return home or move into new accommodation in a safe way
  • Helping young people to exit homelessness by providing them with supporting needs that go beyond housing
  • Providing access to health, mental health and addictions support
  • Responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, to support Indigenous youth who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

"The best way to end homelessness is to stop pushing people out of homes and into precarious situations. Nowhere is this more important than with youth. Ending youth homelessness must be the priority if we are to solve this crisis nationally. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home are leading the way on this issue in Canada."
–  Adam Vaughan, MP, Spadina-Fort York, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Housing and Urban Affairs (Ministry of Families, Children and Social Development)

  “Making the Shift is an example of the local and global impact that York is always striving to make through our academic programming, research and related creative activities. Our community is proud to be part of MtS’s efforts to understand the needs of youth in Canada and to provide them with better, safer and more sustainable housing options, and we appreciate the federal government’s support for innovative initiatives that create transformative solutions.”
–  Rhonda Lenton, President and Vice-Chancellor, York University

A Way Home Canada is a national coalition reimagining solutions to youth homelessness through transformations in policy, planning and practice. For more information:, @AWayHomeCa

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute that is committed to conducting and mobilizing research so as to contribute to solutions to homelessness. For more information:, @homelesshub

 York University champions new ways of thinking that drive teaching and research excellence. Our students receive the education they need to create big ideas that make an impact on the world. Meaningful and sometimes unexpected careers result from cross-disciplinary programming, innovative course design and diverse experiential learning opportunities. York students and graduates push limits, achieve goals and find solutions to the world’s most pressing social challenges, empowered by a strong community that opens minds. York U is an internationally recognized research university – our 11 faculties and 25 research centres have partnerships with 200+ leading universities worldwide. Located in Toronto, York is the third largest university in Canada, with a strong community of 53,000 students, 7,000 faculty and administrative staff, and more than 300,000 alumni. York U's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education.

Media Contact: Janice Walls, Media Relations, York University, 416 455 4710,



Making the Shift – Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab

What is it?
Making the Shift (MtS) is a network within the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. 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. Its goal is to drive transformation of Canada’s response to youth homelessness by building an evidence base on youth homelessness prevention and sustained exits that will guide policy and practice.

What will it do?
The MtS program of community-engaged research will develop and test new ideas, policies, practices and programs. The research will explore how to: shift to prevention of homelessness and early intervention; sustain successful exits from homelessness; enhance health, wellbeing and inclusion; enable better outcomes for Indigenous youth; and leverage data and technology to drive policy and practice.

MtS will turn research into action through a Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) strategy that includes research, evaluation, demonstration projects, the development of highly qualified personnel, as well as conferences and events. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada are already doing Housing First for Youth demonstration projects in three Canadian cities and prevention intervention projects in seven other cities with support from the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy. The MtS Network allows for an expansion of research, evaluation and knowledge mobilization across dozens of additional researchers and their networks, thus amplifying the impact of work already underway.

How does the MtS network align with the Government of Canada’s homelessness strategy?

In 2017, the Government of Canada announced a 10-year National Housing Strategy. In May 2018, the government released the final report of an Advisory Committee on Homelessness, which drew on key recommendations from both the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada. The government’s homelessness strategy, called Reaching Home, requires communities to take a data-driven, evidence-informed and systems-coordination approach to reducing homelessness in Canada. The MtS network will provide communities with the knowledge and resources that will support strategic investment in approaches that are proven to prevent and end youth homelessness.

How will MtS work?
York University is the host institution for the MtS Network. A 12-member Board of Directors provides oversight and strategic direction. It is chaired by Elizabeth McIsaac, president of Maytree, an organization committed to advancing systemic solutions to poverty and strengthening civic communities.

The MtS will be supported by two management committees: the Research Management Committee, led by MtS Scientific Director Stephen Gaetz of York University’s Faculty of Education, and the Implementation Management Committee, led by Melanie Redman of A Way Home Canada, and MtS’s Partnership and Implementation Director. The network will have three advisory committees: an Indigenous advisory committee; an International advisory committee; and an advisory committee of People with Lived Experience of Youth Homelessness. Research theme leaders include leading experts from post-secondary institutions across Canada, hospital-based research centres, community organizations and Indigenous research centres.

How will it be funded?
The MtS network will receive $17.9 million in funding through the federal government’s Networks of Centres of Excellence program, over five years. In addition, the network will be supported by $1.6 million in financing from host institution York University. The project will also be supported by cash and in-kind contributions from 19 post-secondary institutions as well as from a broad range of non-profits, private foundations and others. In the end, the MtS network is leveraging a more than 1:1 cash and in-kind contribution against the $17.9 million investment from the Tri-Council.