By Sheldon Pollett, Choices for Youth
The launch of A Way Home: A National Coalition to End Youth Homelessness is a critical step in mobilizing the capacity of community based service providers, government, and national agencies to end youth homelessness in our country.
As a founding member and Co-chair of the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness (Learning Community), I want to acknowledge that the launch of A Way Home is also the culmination of years of work on the part of a dedicated group of individuals, representing community based service providers, researchers and government agencies from across the country. The Learning Community was conceived of and established by Eva’s Initiatives in 2006 with the vision of creating a learning environment specific to the needs of agencies working with homeless youth. In doing so, for the first time in our country, there was a sense that youth homelessness agencies had ‘a place of our own’, which addressed a very real sense of isolation in our work.
In the early days of the Learning Community, although very much a part of the vision, the idea that we could affect change across the country was simply overwhelming. Instead, the work began with creating a community of practice which was built over time. As a result, the focus was on learning activities which, in addition to knowledge exchange, built capacity. Today this learning community is comprised of 31 members and growing.
Despite the Learning Community’s focus on developing capacity and shared learnings, the vision to create national impact and change was always present. With the creation of the Mobilizing Local Capacity Project, a bold vision was created to build capacity in local communities as a path to creating plans to end youth homelessness. Today this includes provincial level work to mobilize planning for the implementation of broad solutions to youth homelessness with a focus on prevention, crisis intervention and rapid access to age appropriate housing and supports. A Way Home establishes formal national partnerships to see that the vision to end youth homelessness succeeds.
On behalf of the Learning Community, we are excited to be transitioning from our original roots of being hosted by Eva’s Initiatives to formally becoming a part of the national coalition. The combination of working for national systemic change and continuing to develop a growing community of practice ensures the focus of all of our work remains firmly rooted in the realities for youth in communities across the country. In very real terms, the coalition becomes not only a collection of national partners, but a coalition of the many groups who are a part of the learning community – with many more to come.
The most significant strength of the Learning Community and its role within the coalition is a commitment to actively seek out and amplify the voices of youth. The work to end youth homelessness in Canada over the next ten years will only be possible if we listen to these voices.
Sheldon Pollett has been the Executive Director of Choices for Youth for 15 years. During his tenure the organization has emerged as a leader in developing innovative solutions to the needs of at-risk and homeless youth. Sheldon is also Co-chair of the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness and the National Mobilizing Local Capacity Program to End Youth Homelessness, which is now evolving into A Way Home – A National Coalition to End Youth Homelessness. He is a Board member of Raising the Roof, Vice-chair of End Homelessness St. John’s and interim Chair of the provincial Health Minister’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health and Addictions.