UNECE establishes Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention at York University


TORONTO, June 16, 2021 –Approximately 150 million people are homeless and more than 1.8 billion people worldwide lack adequate and  affordable housing. While levels of homelessness vary considerably across UNECE countries, finding sustainable solutions to ensure access to housing for all members of society remains a significant challenge. In 2020, in the United States, the number of homeless people was approximately 580,000 and at least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness every year.

To support the efforts of cities and national governments in fighting the challenges of homelessness, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has established the Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention, the first Geneva UN Charter Centre of Excellence in North America. The Centre will be hosted by York University, co-directed by Faculty of Education Professor Stephen Gaetz, President of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), and Melanie Redman of A Way Home Canada.

The Toronto Centre of Excellence will build on the work of the Observatory, based at York, which has conducted and mobilized homelessness research from across Canada and beyond for many years. It will assess the state of youth homelessness and prevention in the 56 member States of UNECE to help get youth homelessness and prevention onto public policy agendas.

The new Centre is part of a network of Centres coordinated by UNECE with a mandate to engage in the exchange of research-based knowledge, experience and best practices to support implementation of the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing. The Charter also places importance in gathering data on homelessness using common international standards to ensure comparability between member States; making these data and national statistics publicly available to support policy-making, research and economic development; and making use of global and regional data repositories to support the policy-making process.

Designation as a Centre of Excellence will enable COH and “A Way Home Canada” to contribute to a broader effort to prevent homelessness among young people around the world through their Making the Shift project and related lessons learned. The research agenda of the Observatory  has been developed on the premise that realistic and practical solutions to homelessness exists and are possible, and that communities across Canada can achieve that end with the help of credible evidence, supportive policy, and adequate funding frameworks.

UNECE will facilitate the work of the Centre of Excellence and the exchange of information, knowledge and experience within the network as well as with relevant international and national organizations in the UNECE region, coordinating-cooperation and exchange of experiences between the Centres of Excellence.


“Through this partnership, we aim to raise the visibility of homelessness on the political agenda throughout our region,” said UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova. “The COVID-19 pandemic has bluntly showed that we cannot live up to our commitment to leave no-one behind in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if the human right to housing is not fully guaranteed for all.”

“The establishment of the UNECE Toronto Centre of Excellence at York is a testament to the global leadership of our researchers in creating innovative, nuanced and effective solutions to youth homelessness,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “Under the guidance of our Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, the new Centre will bring together experts, policymakers, and local and international community partners to make a positive global impact on this urgent social issue.”

“In the context of the pandemic, we can see the folly of ignoring the role of prevention in addressing major social and health crises,” said Professor Stephen Gaetz, President of COH and co-director of TCE. “The Centre of Excellence will help us mobilize our efforts to transform our response to homelessness to focus on prevention. Working with a range of international partners, the Centre will provide a mechanism to collaborate internationally to understand how to effectively end homelessness, and youth homelessness in particular. This is a big opportunity.”

“Another benefit of the Toronto Centre of Excellence is that it connects our work in Canada to realize housing as a human right to a broad network of international partners and researchers who are also grappling with this question,” said Melanie Redman, President of AWH and co-Director of TCE. “Our goal with the TCE is to support UNECE Member States to have the knowledge they need to act boldly in the face of the injustice that is homelessness.”


The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) was set up in 1947 by ECOSOC. It is one of five regional commissions of the United Nations.

UNECE's major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. UNECE includes 56 member States in Europe, North America and Asia. However, all interested United Nations member States may participate in the work of UNECE. Over 70 international professional organisations and other non-governmental organisations take part in UNECE activities.

For further information on the work of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management, please consult: http://unece.org/housing/committee.

About the Making the Shift project

Through Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MtS), funded by the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence Program and the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, COH and A Way Home are bringing together researchers, policymakers, service providers and people with lived experience to identify how to prevent youth homelessness. They are overseeing 27 research projects that include longitudinal research on better outcomes for youths transitioning from care, innovative strategies to prevent Indigenous youth homelessness in Saskatchewan, and school-based early intervention. MtS is also conducting 15 demonstration projects in 14 Canadian cities to test models of homelessness prevention.

About York University

York University is a modern, multi-campus, urban university located in Toronto, Ontario. Backed by a diverse group of students, faculty, staff, alumni and partners, we bring a uniquely global perspective to help solve societal challenges, drive positive change and prepare our students for success. York's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education. York’s campuses in Costa Rica and India offer students exceptional transnational learning opportunities and innovative programs. Together, we can make things right for our communities, our planet, and our future.

Media contact: Anjum Nayyar, York University Media Relations, cell 437 242 1547, anayyar@yorku.ca