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Bright Spot: Guelph-Wellington reduces chronic youth homelessness 43% during the pandemic

March 25, 2021 - 6:47 am / News

Over the last year, this Built for Zero Canada community has reduced chronic youth homelessness by nearly half since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.


Guelph-Wellington’s unwavering focus on housing youth experiencing chronic homelessness—despite the hurdles and complications thrown their way from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—has meant a 43% reduction in their chronic youth homelessness population.

The Built for Zero Canada community set their baseline month in August 2018, when they had 51 youth captured on their chronic homelessness Quality By-Name List (QBNL). Since then, the community has reduced chronic youth homelessness by 76% overall.

“In 2018 we conducted a Point in Time Count and almost half of the respondents declared their first instance of homelessness happened as a youth,” says Lori Richer, Housing Stability Manager, County of Wellington. “Finding creative and innovative solutions to support youth with intensive wrap around supports and appropriate housing placements is key to ending homelessness.”

Data-driven decision-making is key

Service providers in Guelph-Wellington continuously collect robust and holistic data on clients, which helps to inform service decisions.

“Young people who are experiencing chronic homelessness are often at a pivotal time in their life trajectory,” says Kristen Cairney, Wyndham House Program Director. “In many cases, they are dealing with complex circumstances within their lives and family dynamics.”

Young people experience many transitions between 16 and 25, from psychosocial to developmental, as well as in their peer relationships and explorations of identity. During this time, they are also contending with and navigating services and supports that change throughout their transition.

“So, it becomes very important to us to continuously assess and consider both support needs and appropriate types of housing placements as these are likely to change over time,” Kristen says. “By focusing specifically on youth homelessness, we are able to provide stage-matched, developmentally appropriate support to young people as they move between the children and adult systems and their housing needs change and evolve.”

Guelph-Wellington is working to improve the data that they collect right from the beginning of a client’s stay by requesting mental health records or completing a full housing history in the Homeless Individual and Families Information System (HIFIS) database. Wyndham House is also currently re-working their diversion screener and client intake interview to ensure it collects more useful information about client support needs and housing options.

A team effort

“Working with Built for Zero Canada and engaging in data-driven Plan, Do, Study, Act Cycles (an improvement model) allowed us to continue to work as a community to explore creative approaches to service delivery for sub-populations of young people experiencing chronic homelessness,” Kristen says. “This has required our organization and other partners to stretch beyond a regular service model and become creative about interventions.”

Wellington County and Wyndham House collaborate closely with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Family and Children’s Services, the Welcome In Drop-In Centre, and Stonehenge Therapeutic Community. These partners regularly meet to plan and coordinate improvement projects, share care plans, and ensure seamless service for high acuity youth.

“During our local Built for Zero meetings we are able to create action plans that focus on youth and adult specific ideas of improvement,” says Lori. “Improvements that are achieved in one subpopulation can easily be adapted to the other subpopulations with minor changes.”

Applying learnings across the system

Their goal for 2021 is to continue shelter transformation efforts and further expand their focus on prevention and diversion for both the youth and adult sectors.

“There are several lessons our community has learned through the reductions in youth chronic homelessness,” says Lori. “In order for us to end chronic homelessness, we need to continue to refine service delivery to transform the emergency shelter system and enhance early intervention supports to prevent homelessness.”

Guelph-Wellington is also applying their learnings from working with the youth chronic population to all youth experiencing homelessness. The team is finding that there are many similarities between the youth encountered through diversion programs and youth on their BNL who have aged-in to chronicity. When they are able to create a service plan that meets a youth’s needs and addresses risk early in their interactions with the client, they can prevent entry into the homelessness system altogether. “This means moving beyond the concepts of putting roofs over people’s head to a focus on a holistic, developmentally appropriate care plan that builds on individual resiliency factors,” Kristen says.

Service design, creativity, and collaboration are the most important pieces to the homelessness-serving system—these are some of the key learnings for the County of Wellington and Wyndham House.

Learn more by checking out the Built for Zero Canada community’s overall progress on reducing chronic homelessness in their public data dashboard.

This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.