A research pilot project to help support youth exiting homelessness is in the works and local organizations Sketch, geared to providing creative training initiatives for at-risk youth, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) are among a handful of agencies already on board.
The pilot project, which has $390,000 in funding from the Ontario government, is developed by the Toronto Homeless Youth Transition Collaborative.
Besides Sketch and CAMH, the collaborative also includes The Centre for Mindfulness Studies, Covenant House, the Wellesley Institute and LOFT (which stands for Leap of Faith Together).
For six months the 30 or so youth involved in the program will have access to social support, counselling for groups to address complex trauma and for families to help with reunification and resolve issues; and lastly there will be a psychotherapy component for those who need more than counselling.
Through these support mechanisms, the project aims to address the problem of recently housed youth cycling back into homelessness and their poor health choices and their quality of life.
“Ultimately the goal is to fill a gap in the system. There are services that are geared toward crisis and placement in housing, but there’s too many young people cycling back to homelessness and not flourishing,” said Sean Kidd, the CAMH clinical scientist that’s leading the pilot project.
“Our goal is to develop an approach that is ultimately pragmatic and cost effective and build on existing resources to improve the chances of young people who have made that tremendous jump to housing to actually sustain it.”
Kidd added this project will also help youth navigate past the basic survival mode once housing is found and move into a period of stability, which is one of the biggest challenges facing youth in their situation. That can be in the form of seeking mental health help or finding job.
With the help of a broad spectrum of local agencies, Kidd said the project will also provide critical support systems and interventions to help youth overcome societal barriers.
“Many have come through a range of adversities, such as mental illness, family adversity, poverty or what have you that led to their homelessness,” Kidd told The Villager.
“Most end up being victimized in a range of different ways and engage in a number of activities and experiences that lead to deteriorating mental and physical health. So when you finally get housing it’s not like all of those things are going to go away, support is needed.”
That’s where agencies like Sketch come in to help provide programing for the youth to get involved with. Rose Gutierrez, Sketch program director, said although the project is still in its early stages they’re working on creating new programs that will validate the youths’ self-identity, skills and connections with peers.
“The young people in the study will be partnered with our community leaders that have already been through Sketch’s learning framework and will hopefully provide some personal mentorship,” Gutierrez said.
“Intentional support will be built in and hopefully they’ll be engaged in other sketch programs.”
Gutierrez added Sketch’s role is crucial in this project because it is often seen as an easy entry point to a path of empowerment that’s different from a case management or housing intervention approach.
The trick, she said, will be getting the coordination to be seamless.
“Mental health is a key piece, but it is one piece. Sketch provides another piece, as does LOFT and so on,” she said.
“So you know when an individual comes into a program they’re not a single focused individual with one issue, there’s different pieces to the puzzle.”
Over the summer the project will be engaging with staff from the different organizations and plans are to start the project in the fall for six months. Once that’s complete there will be a community report published, a formal report, and the development of a “how-to” manual for those running an agency with youth exiting homelessness.
“What we’ll hopefully learn is what is working and what’s not and what needs revision,” Kidd said.
“At the end of this if we can come up with a model that really enhances young people’s stability to flourish and make gains, then we’ll scale it and look at how we can engage partners provincially and nationally.”