By: Melanie Redman, Executive Director at A Way Home 

I recently heard a young person with lived experience of homelessness offering recommendations to A Way Home America and senior policy makers. He said that funding more services and supports for youth experiencing homelessness is great, but it’s not good enough. He talked about the damage to his life caused by his experiences in foster care and then later with homelessness. He came back again and again to the role of schools in preventing youth homelessness. He asked why we aren’t putting more effort and emphasis on school-based early intervention. Point taken, but what does that look like?

A Way Home Canada is partnered with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and Raising the Roof (lead partner) on The Upstream Project. Some visionary organizations in Niagara and York Regions are piloting this Canadian adaptation of Australia’s Geelong Project. The Raft and 360 Kids are laying the foundation for a potential provincial and national scaling of this innovative school-based model for early identification and support for young people at risk of homelessness. We will work together in the coming months to develop the knowledge and evidence base that will allow other communities, provinces and territories to implement this model so we can ensure better outcomes for young people.

Why schools? Our response to that is because virtually every young person who becomes homeless was in school at one point, and most likely an adult in that school (teacher, coach, etc.) knew something was wrong, but didn’t know how to help. This model identifies and assesses students at risk and then connects them to community services that will support the young person and their family

One person who understands the importance of working upstream to support young people before they ever experience homelessness is Joe Roberts, a former homeless youth who began pushing a shopping cart across Canada on May 1st of this year to raise awareness about youth homelessness, but also to elevate the importance of prevention. This national trek will culminate in Vancouver on September 30, 2017. Part of the funds raised will go to support The Upstream Project and our efforts to scale this work. The other funds will stay in the community to support local services. Joe is stopping in over 300 secondary schools and will be involved in over 200 community events across the country. I checked The Push for Change website just this morning and Joe has already walked 1,751 km (and here I thought I was having a productive summer).

Will The Upstream Project end youth homelessness? Well no, not on its own, but this model combined with other models of prevention and appropriate housing and supports can. In the coming months we’ll continue to update you on how we are working together as a coalition to hit this issue from every angle. In the meantime, give a shout out to Joe and The Push for Change on social media. Let him know we’re with him on this. #pushforchange #endyouthhomelessness

This post is part of a monthly series that follows A Way Home’s progress as we create real change on the issue of youth homelessness. On the second Wednesday of every month, join us for an update from A Way Home’s Executive Director, Melanie Redman.