Homelessness strategy on the right track: research

Early results from a Red Deer youth homeless research project indicate service providers are on the right track to provide better co-ordination of services and programs, and to create more collaboration.

Early results from a Red Deer youth homeless research project indicate service providers are on the right track to provide better co-ordination of services and programs, and to create more collaboration.

Yale Belanger, a University of Lethbridge associate professor of Native American Studies, is analyzing the data on a research study involving youth living on the streets in Red Deer. Interviews were recently conducted with stakeholders, politicians and homeless youth. He said co-ordination of services and circulation of information in order to respond to issues were two issues that came up frequently.

“We have to respond to the youth more effectively,” said Belanger. “They were asking us the same question: how do we do that when they have the answer right now? It’s simply more collaboration, more interaction and start to develop programs that youth really need as opposed to simply putting programs in place we think will help them.”

There are an estimated 80 to 100 homeless youth living in Red Deer.

Belanger was one of three keynote speakers at a workshop for service providers and community members on youth homelessness in Red Deer on Wednesday.

“What we have is a one-size-fits-all approach to responding to youth homelessness that is not impacting certain segments of that community,” said Belanger. “Ultimately the main goal at this point is try to get people to recognize that it is just not a homogeneous group of youth. It’s a heterogeneous community that has to be responded to in specific ways.”

Belanger said ending homelessness is a tough task but it is realistic when you have the right people in the right positions and the communities are motivated across Alberta.

Stephen Gaetz, associate professor with the Faculty of Education at York University, and director of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, also provided some insight into the challenges of ending homelessness. Gaetz is behind the Homeless Hub, which provides projects dedicated to mobilizing homelessness research, planning and service provision in Canada.

Gaetz said the response to youth homelessness in Canada isn’t working and this response needs to be revisited in a way that will actually end youth homelessness.

“The good news is that we have learned a lot both in Canada and elsewhere in the world to do that,” he said. “We actually know what to do. We don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder what to do.

“We know what to do. What we need now is communities and all levels of government to work together to plan and implement those solutions. I honestly believe we can end youth homelessness.”

He is optimistic that youth no longer will be in emergency shelters for years because there will be systems in place that will prevent young people from becoming homeless in the first place. Early-intervention programs will also be in place to help youth return home or get into houses with supports.

He said the province is on the right track to ending homelessness and leads the country with an engaged provincial government addressing youth homelessness. Alberta has a 10-year plan to end homeless by 2019 and is set to roll out a strategic plan to end youth homelessness.

Parkland Youth Homes Society program director Sandy Proseilo said she appreciated the representation from the municipality, province and community at the workshop.

“We are pretty excited about the future and the fact that things are rolling along and I have no doubt there will be change,” said Proseilo.

Also speaking was Karen Stone, the executive director of the Alberta Interagency Council on Homelessness.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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