04/26/2013 - Can we solve youth homelessness?  The role of research points the way

The question of how to effectively respond to youth homelessness has long been a preoccupation of mine.  My work with homeless youth in Canada began in the 1990s, during my time at Shout Clinic, a community health center for street youth in Toronto.  At that time, the problem of youth homelessness was not only becoming much more substantial in cities across the country, it was growing in visibility.  As communities scrambled to provide emergency services, such as shelters and day programs, politicians and the news media railed against the scourge of youthful panhandlers. Twenty years have passed, and in many ways things have remained the same. 

The longer I am involved with this issue, the more it seems completely unacceptable that we allow young people to languish in emergency shelters, many for years on end. Not only do they experience extreme poverty while exposed to sexual exploitation, addictions and other harms, we may actually be condemning them to a lifelong pattern of poverty, deprivation and potential homelessness.  We must ask ourselves: can we do better? 

The good news: there are real, practical solutions to youth homelessness, and these can be applied in communities across the country. People are beginning to think more strategically about the problem, and the focus is shifting from a narrow emphasis on emergency service provision (which does have an important role to play) to a model that also incorporates effective prevention strategies and housing and support options that are tailored to the needs of adolescents and young adults.  Both the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) have demonstrated a commitment to supporting communities in the development of more effective responses.  USICH’s recent amendment to Opening Doors includes a Framework to End Youth Homelessness.

So, what role can research play in addressing this important issue?  I believe the role of research is essential to identifying the underlying features of the problem, assessing the effectiveness of interventions, and pointing the way towards conceptual shifts that are necessary in the identification of effective solutions.  The recently released book, Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice does exactly this.  The book aims to fill a gap in the information available on this important issue by providing an easily accessible collection of the best Canadian research and policy analysis in the field.  This information is equally important to researchers, policy makers and service providers in the United States, since the issues that underlie youth homelessness are similar in both countries.

If we are going to solve youth homelessness in a meaningful way, we need solutions that are informed by the best research. This book has been written with this in mind. In this volume, leading scholars present key findings from their research on youth homelessness. In an effort to make this research accessible and relevant, contributing authors have been asked to address the “So What?-ness” of their research; to make clear the policy and practice implications of their research so as to better inform the efforts of those working to address youth homelessness.

One final point: the ePub and PDF versions of this book are available for free from the Homeless Hub!   We do this because we are committed to the development of more effective solutions to youth homelessness, and getting the best information out to the widest audience. Not only can we do things differently, we must do things differently. And research on youth homelessness can help make a difference.

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