A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Redefining “Community-wide” Responses to Youth Homelessness



Youth homelessness is a community-wide issue that demands a community-wide response. Read about what Katie Hong of the Raikes Foundation took away from the most recent Foundations for Youth Success convening in Toronto.

If you’ve spent any amount of time with me or my Raikes Foundation colleagues, you’ve likely heard us emphasize that youth homelessness is a community-wide issue that demands a community-wide response. It’s an important refrain that reflects our emphasis on collaborative, systems-level solutions. As simple as that saying is, though, I’m regularly intrigued by how much our understanding of it continues to evolve.

I was left with that familiar sense of excitement and intrigue following the most recent Foundations for Youth Success meeting in Toronto. It brought together funders from around Canada and the U.S. to share lessons learned on our mutual interest in preventing and ending youth homelessness. We may work in different geographical areas, but the meeting emphasized more than ever that there is a truly international community of funders and partners working to end youth homelessness. And, as our mantra goes, youth homelessness requires a community-wide response from this community of funders just as much from any geographic one.

I was encouraged that there’s already alignment within this community on several important points, including:

  1. That our approach to ending youth homelessness needs to include coordinated engagement by all levels of government;
  2. That a youth development orientation is critical. Ending youth homelessness is not the same as ending adult homelessness;
  3. That young people have to be actively engaged as partners in this work;
  4. That while we do need to strengthen crisis services, a much bigger focus is needed on prevention and education/employment; and
  5. That our response needs to include an integrated prevention framework and action plan that includes primary prevention, systems prevention and early intervention.

In addition to solidifying our agreement on these principles, we learned so much from our Canadian partners and their effort to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness. In particular, I was inspired and struck by two lessons I hope to carry into the Raikes Foundation’s work:

  1. The unusual suspects need a seat at the table. We need all different types of partners and leaders in our community to come together to prevent and end youth homelessness. It can’t just be the current core group of providers, funders and advocates. In particular, our colleagues north of the border have done a magnificent job of rallying the business community. We heard from Paul Klein at Impakt about Home Depot Foundation’s partnership with Workopolis to employ more homeless youth by creating a web portal that connects employers with organizations helping these young people find work. Equally impressive, leaders in Kamloops have rallied their local business community to support innovative housing efforts that provide long-term stability for young people.
  2. There’s tremendous value in our similarities. While our local contexts and environments differ, the work to tackle youth homelessness in the U.S. and Canada is more alike than different. This similarity offers promising value as we share lessons and leverage existing resources. Case in point—there’s less need than ever to reinvent the wheel with toolkits when portals like the newly-launched A Way Home Canada and the Homeless Hub offer proven materials curated by experts like Stephen Gaetz. Even beyond the specific lens of youth homelessness, J.W McConnell Foundation’s Innoweave project offers great resources on collective impact. And in the U.S., the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness recently released a helpful framework for communities to use in responding collaboratively to prevent and end youth homelessness. As funders, we can play a key role in curating and building on these existing resources to support and empower communities.

Most of all, I left Toronto inspired by the fact that we are part of an international movement to prevent and end youth homelessness. There’s a community of funders across North America and the world united by the belief that philanthropy can play a catalytic role on this issue. We may be separated by borders and governments, but much of our passion, lessons-learned and resources are applicable no matter which side of the 49th north parallel you live on. Uniting this community will only strengthen our collective efforts, and I’m thrilled to see how these international partnership can grow into a community-wide response to end youth homelessness.

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katie_hong_sized.jpgKatie supports the Raikes Foundation’s national work on early adolescent development and leads the foundation’s efforts around youth and young adult homelessness. Previously, Katie worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she oversaw its initiative to reduce family homelessness and the foundation’s advocacy grantmaking, including education efforts in Washington state. Katie has also served as the Director for the City of Seattle’s Office of Housing and spent time as Executive Policy Adviser to Governor Gary Locke and as a White House Fellow for both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Find her at @KatieHSeattle.

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Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

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