Erinne, 19, had spent three years as a homeless teenager in Edmonton and finding a place to live was becoming increasingly difficult. Now as an expectant mother, her need to find a home was even more urgent. However, not only was she having trouble finding an apartment that would accept her dog, but she was also realizing that many apartments do not allow children. She tried accessing a variety of government services and found it challenging since they often had long lineups and were located in different offices.
Through the hub and access to support, we’re providing youth with services that give them purpose. The kids love it.
– Jessica Day, program manager, YESS
Finally Erinne started to make some progress when she began accessing services offered by Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS). The not-for-profit organization has been providing support services to youth experiencing homeless-ness since 1981 and operates Edmonton’s only overnight emergency shelter for youth.
Erinne’s progress was largely thanks to a shift that occurred at YESS a few years ago. That shift happened in response to feedback from youth. “People often forget to ask youth how they feel,” says Jessica Day, program manager with YESS. “They need help and want to be heard.” The recent shift changed the organization’s emphasis from simply engaging youth in activities to working with them to provide stability in their lives.
As part of this, YESS extended the hours at Armoury Resource Centre (ARC), where youth can access services and resources. Workers help youth identify barriers that are preventing them from accessing income and housing support, and find solutions to break down those barriers.
“The kids wanted more than something to fill their time. They want purpose and to get through tasks that will help them,” says Day. “They were saying that they felt stagnant and weren’t accomplishing anything.”
Through a partnership with the South Side Primary Care Network, YESS also began providing basic medical care at ARC. Doctors, nurses and mental health workers started making visits to ARC for the youth that were not comfortable going to professional medical centres. Following this initial success of bringing in outside resources to ARC, YESS is now part of a larger network of community organizations involved in establishing Integrated Youth Hubs in Edmonton.
“Through the hubs and access to support, we’re providing them with services that give them purpose,” says Day. “The kids love it.”
Erinne agrees, noting that having better access to support services and workers at the hub was amazing. When she was in the hospital, one of the workers went and viewed an apartment for her, and then sent Erinne pictures. It also became very easy to keep open communication. Erinne could go to one place to find everyone she needed to contact and if they needed to contact her, they could find her at the Integrated Youth Hub.
We take the ideas of the youth to build programs and deliver programs with guidance from the youth.
– Catherine Broomfield, executive director of iHuman
The idea for Integrated Youth Hubs was initiated by Homeward Trust and the Youth Systems Committee, a 30-member committee representing systems, service providers and youth agencies all working on the issue of youth homelessness. This pilot project aims to locate multiple community services and government agencies under one roof, and is a key priority in Homeward Trust’s Community Strategy to End Youth Homelessness in Edmonton. The strategy was developed after extensive research and talking to multiple agencies.
“They highlighted a need to address youth experiencing homelessness in an organized way,” says Giri Puligandla, director of planning and research with Homeward Trust. “One of the key issues that we heard from stakeholders was that youth have difficulties accessing services. Many don’t feel comfortable going into government service centres, and we felt we could do a better job helping them if they can access those services at places where they already go and trust.”
The research also identified the need for two Integrated Youth Hubs. With two distinct groups of youth experiencing homelessness in Edmonton – north and south of the river – it was important to launch the pilot project with a hub in each area.
In spring 2016, the program launched with an Integrated Youth Hub at YESS’s ARC facility in the south with iHuman Youth Society providing the north location. Homeward Trust’s Youth Housing First Teams, Alberta Health Services – Addiction and Mental Health, and Child and Family Services have scheduled hours at each location.
Discussions are ongoing with Alberta Justice, Alberta Works and different education boards to link to the Integrated Youth Hubs. “Part of it is getting youth connected with housing and services. Engaging government services and the health system are to be a major part of the service,” Puligandla says. “They would focus on services and we would focus on housing.”
Similar to YESS, iHuman creates programs based on conversations with the youth that access its services. “The youth come up with solutions to gaps they’ve identified,” says Catherine Broomfield, executive director of iHuman. “We take the ideas of the youth to build programs and deliver programs with guidance from the youth.”
iHuman launched in 1997, offering arts-based programs for youth in high-risk situations. The not-for-profit organization recently moved into a new facility and with the extra space decided an Integrated Youth Hub would further add to the services they provide.
“Essentially, we already had a hub operation through the services we were providing,” says Broomfield. “What we didn’t have was a housing component. It was important for us as an organization to engage directly with the housing needs of the youth we are serving.”
Bringing multiple resources and services under one roof helps youth identify the services available to them and provides quick access. The Integrated Youth Hubs can provide a “one-stop shop” and a comfortable place for youth to get the help they need.
“They can build confidence, capacity and skill; then we can bridge them to programs out in the community,” says Broomfield. “It’s a win for the system if youth can access the services that are there for them.”
While the Integrated Youth Hub pilot project is still in its early stages, Puligandla says the stage has been set to build on it and continue improving how youth access services. There are still gaps, however, that service integration alone cannot fill. For example, many of the youth can be too old for children’s services and not old enough to access adult services. Nonetheless, the dialogue and co-location are important steps in the right direction.
“We’re so early, but one of the successes is being able to bridge between government services and community services in a way we haven’t seen before,” he says. “Having government workers support access in hubs is a huge step. The dream is to not have scheduled workers but full-time workers, and that’s a work in progress.”
For Erinne, her dream of finding a place to live and call home came true. Since accessing services offered through the Integrated Youth Hub at YESS, she has also registered with Alberta Works, bought a car, carried her baby to full term (her baby was expected to be premature) and reconnected with her parents.