Wood's Homes Blog

Youth Housing First in Lethbridge

April 16, 2020
By Kelsey DesRoche, Wood's Homes Lethbridge Team Leader
Youth Housing First in Lethbridge

Imagine you’re 19-years-old, dealing with depression, anxiety and addiction, have physical health issues and no family support. Now, imagine trying to deal with all of this while sleeping at a shelter, couch surfing or even worse, living on the streets. You have no home – no safe place.

This is something we see on a regular basis and where Housing First comes in.

Housing First is based on the philosophy that when a person is in stable housing, they are better equipped to work on other areas of concern in their lives such as mental health, addictions, legal or physical health. Housing First operates on five basic principles:

  1. Immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements
  2. Consumer choice and self-determination
  3. Recovery orientation
  4. Individualized and client-driven supports
  5. Social and community integration

These principles guide our work with youth. We believe that housing is a fundamental right, and that what we do ensures youth in Lethbridge who might be struggling not only have access to a sense of security, but are also able to maintain it. Ensuring youth have the ability to maintain housing encompasses much of our work in a number of key areas. For example, we focus on respecting, cleaning and the upkeep of their living space and/or guiding them through ways of speaking to their landlords about concerns in a calm, respectful way so their voice can be heard. The staff need to be very creative with their approaches depending on the youth and situation they are dealing with.

Housing First was introduced in Lethbridge in 2009, and in 2012 Wood’s Homes began providing the service to youth under the age of 18. Soon after, it was determined that supports were also needed for youth up to age 24. But first, a few challenges needed to be addressed, as these supports looked very different for youth who were being supported by Children’s Services compared to those that were not.

From this, the Youth HUB, Youth Outreach Team and TTIP (Transition to Independence Team) were started at McMan Youth, Family and Community Services. Youth would be assessed at the Youth HUB and placed with a team depending on a variety of factors, including acuity, age and Children’s Services status. TTIP works specifically with youth who are supported by Children’s Services, and the remaining youth were either placed with Wood’s Homes Housing First team or the Youth Outreach team.

In April 2019, the entire Housing First system was revamped and it was determined that all youth in Lethbridge who were not supported by Children’s Services would be placed with Wood’s Homes Housing First team. We went from a maximum of 30 youth to a maximum of 83, and our team grew from two frontline staff to a team of five with a team lead.

The expansion we experienced earlier this year brought on a wider variety of youth with more complex needs, including those struggling as a result of the opioid crisis. When mental health concerns and addictions are intertwined, it makes housing that much more important. If youth have a safe and stable place to be, they are also able to have a place of reprieve. However, this also takes creativity from our frontline staff to ensure that youth do not identify their ‘home’ as their place to use drugs. 

One of the biggest roles we have is to connect youth to long-term or permanent supports. We have spent time building important and quality relationships with community partners such as schools, landlords, police, mental health and addictions supports. These partnerships have allowed us to provide a high level of support to a variety of clients with diverse needs.

Looking back on the past eight years of Housing First, we are proud of how far we have come and are excited to look forward to the future.