Housing First for Youth and the Role of Family Mediation/Reconnection

By Melanie Redman, Executive Director, A Way Home Canada


In 2013 the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness in collaboration with the Hamilton Street Youth Planning Collaborative and the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness created a framework for adapting Housing First to meet the developmental needs of young people. A Safe and Decent Place to Live is now used internationally and will soon be the basis for a toolkit of resources to implement the model for service providers everywhere. Here are the principles of Housing First for Youth

1.Immediate access to housing with no precondition

2. Youth choice and self-determination

3.Positive youth development orientation

4.Individualized and client-driven supports

5. Social and community integration

One key difference with Housing First for Youth is that young people need a range of housing options. Here are the models of accommodation in the Canadian context:




Here are the types of supports that developing adolescents require:

Core to Housing First for Youth are supports for young people to meaningfully reconnect with natural supports, such as family. You’ll notice above that one of the options for accommodation with this model is returning to the family home or to live with another adult meaningful to the young person. In order to stress the importance of family mediation, or reconnection, we’ve begun using the term “Family First” in Canada (coined by David French with the Government of Alberta). Now that doesn’t mean that every young person needs to return home, as it may not be safe or appropriate. What it does mean is that every young person should receive the offer of family mediation/reconnection in order to connect with natural supports.

When I write about the importance of Family First, it seems so obvious why it’s critical in preventing and ending youth homelessness, yet we invest so little in the model, despite having evidence of extremely positive outcomes. Some programs and individuals working with young people experiencing homelessness even philosophically disagree with family reconnect work, instead seeing the family as the problem. In Canada the organization that has had the most success in integrating family reconnect across all aspects of their programs recognized that they needed to train a different kind of front-line worker in order to ensure family reconnect would be implemented both philosophically and practically.

In order to ensure we have a strong enough evidence base on Family First to influence public policy and investment in the coming years, we are proposing a series of national demonstration projects on the model in conjunction with other models of prevention such as Host Homes, Youth Reconnect and Housing First for Youth. Key to all of these models of prevention and housing with supports is family mediation/reconnection. We will be collaborating with FEANTSA Youth and the EU Housing First Hub on all of this important work.

Stay tuned for updates as we develop the Housing First for Youth Toolkit and a strong evidence base for models of prevention and disseminate the results internationally.

Please visit A Way Home for more information.

Melanie Redman, Executive Director, A Way Home Canada

Melanie Redman is the Executive Director of A Way Home Canada, a national coalition of organizations dedicated to preventing and ending youth homelessness. A Way Home is not only an organization, but a movement for change that is cropping up in various locations internationally. Melanie is also the Chair of the Youth Homelessness Research Priority Area at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. Melanie’s passion for systemic change led her to co-create A Way Home.

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