DC researcher leads co-design of youth-led housing hub model for youth living on their own

Old enough to live on their own but too young to receive social assistance directly, Ontario’s Trusteed Youth (TY) face challenges no child should.

Through a two-year research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) through the College and Community Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF), Durham College (DC) researcher Lorraine Closs found that TY often face precarious housing situations and homelessness, food insecurity, mental and physical health concerns and more. These issues are largely due to the challenge of navigating a complex and overburdened social services system and lack of safe and affordable housing options.

TY represent a unique and particularly vulnerable population, relying on a community agency to act as their “trustee” so they can collect Ontario Works assistance. They live alone without the opportunity to approach independence in a gradual and supported manner, and lack suitable role models and guidance that would generally be provided in a family setting.

Established in partnership with the Regional Municipality of Durham, Durham District School Board, Durham Mental Health Services, Boys and Girls Club of Durham, and the John Howard Society of Canada, the DC applied research project, which concluded in December, has resulted in the development of a ground-breaking alternative housing hub model co-designed for youth, by youth. It has also provided valuable insight into how the system can best meet the needs of TY while informing future policy recommendations for supporting youth living on their own.

“By directly involving trusteed youth in the development of this housing hub, we were able to support their needs, while also helping them improve their knowledge of the service system and increase their sense of personal competency and possibilities for the future,” said Closs, who also teaches at the college in the Social Service Worker program. “It’s our hope that the insights and recommendations developed as a result of this valuable research will help inform service design and delivery here at home and across the country, and that this project will become a catalyst in ensuring brighter futures for our trusteed youth.”

During the project, Closs gathered survey feedback from 43 current TY, as well as 30 service providers from 22 agencies across the region to better understand the obstacles facing both groups. With this data, she hosted three in-person co-design sessions and a virtual consensus building session with community service providers and TY. At these sessions, they co-designed the youth housing hub model and strategized policies that would improve the coordination and collaboration of services for youth living on their own.

“The Region of Durham is committed to ending chronic homelessness in our community,” said commissioner of social services, Stella Danos-Papaconstantinou. “We know that the needs of youth who experience precarious housing and homelessness are different than those of adults. This research amplifies the voices of vulnerable Durham youth and the service providers working with them to co-design a transitional, supportive housing model.  We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Durham College on this applied research and bring data, rigor and the voice of youth to proposed housing solutions inspired by their experiences.”

Other recommendations that came out of the research include:

  • Bundling services for youth by creating school hubs.
  • Creating drop-in style supports to by-pass complex referral and waitlist processes.
  • Intervention services for landlord disputes and funding incentives for landlords who rent to youth.
  • A designated case worker assigned to TY to help navigate the service system.
  • Flexibility around communication options for youth to access service supports.
  • Access to free transportation for youth.
  • Affordable, safe transitional housing options to prevent the onset of chronic homelessness.
  • Improved process for changing schools without parental consent.
  • Life skills guidance for the seamless transition from adolescence to adulthood.
  • Inclusion of youth in the development of youth services.

The full research report, including key findings, implications and recommendations are available to view online, in addition to a short film that was produced to disseminate the findings of the research.

This project was proudly supported by DC’s Office of Research Services, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ORSIE). ORSIE provides support to social innovation projects through access to funding opportunities, faculty expertise, state-of-the-art research facilities, and student learning experiences. In partnership with industry and community agencies, applied research projects are carried out by DC faculty experts and students and administered by ORSIE. To connect with ORSIE, please reach out online.