Kelowna is one of two cities in Canada that are involved in a pilot program that shifts the focus from a crisis-driven response to youth homelessness to one of early-intervention and prevention.
Upstream Kelowna is a preventative approach to youth homelessness and school disengagement. The initiative in Kelowna is led by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada in partnership with A Way Home Kelowna, and a number of other partners. They have joined together to follow the Upstream Canada model, and participate in research practices that would allow everyone to learn how to best run the project.
“The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Okanagan runs the only youth shelter in the Okanagan Valley and have heard too often from youth who experience traumatic outcomes or whose homelessness could have been prevented if they were identified and supported earlier. We have a vision where the shelter doesn’t have to exist,” said Sarah Mackinnon, Youth Services Director for BGCO.
Upstream Kelowna will use a locally adapted, universal screening tool to identify school aged youth who may be flying under the radar. The confidential Student Needs Assessment identifies risk before crisis hits. The student and their family is then connected to a variety of supports based on their needs and aimed at building resilience and overall well-being.
A five-year strategy released by A Journey Home, to address Kelowna’s homelessness, listed launching the Upstream pilot, in partnership with School District 23, as one of the Top 10 actions that needed to be implemented. The BGCO was selected by the community to lead the project due to their expertise with youth homelessness. The BGCO is investing efforts further upstream than the emergency shelter point with hopes to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.
As the lead community-based organization, the BGCO is responsible for convening local stakeholders (Arc Programs, The Bridge Youth Services, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, The Foundry and School District 23) and implementing this collective impact project. Some services that are offered to youth and families include family mediation, systems navigation, mental health, addictions, and life skills.
“I have heard an endless number of stories from young people who found themselves struggling to keep a roof over their head, and much too often from those who have found themselves without a roof at all. I think we can all agree that one young person without a home is too many. We can and we will do better,” said Philippa Putlitz, Coordinator – Upstream Kelowna. “Upstream is an early intervention initiative and is the first of its kind in Canada. We believe its potential is far reaching. Upstream has the potential to reduce the social burden of care felt by our teachers, identify gaps in services in our community, and most importantly – keep our young people in school and safely housed.”
Upstream Canada is an adaptation of work that originated in Australia as The Geelong Project (since renamed Upstream Australia), which has demonstrated a 40 per cent reduction in youth homelessness and 20 per cent reduction in school drop-out rates.
“It really is an opportunity for us to be proactive and make sure we can end housing instability and disengagement for some of our youth,” said Kevin Kaardal, Superintendent of Schools and CEO of School District 23. “We are not always aware if a youth is at risk of homelessness, but the community can be. Working together we can ensure that we wrap supports around those young people to make sure they are in a safe place to be, live, and go to school.”
Those interested in directing funds towards Upstream Kelowna, can do so by clicking here.