The nice part about symptoms is they tend to standout. If someone is hungry, feed them. If someone is homeless, give them shelter. While it may require a great deal more resources and effort to treat these symptoms, it is a lot easier to identify them. Preventing the problem before it starts requires strategy, awareness and a willingness to think outside of the box, and when successful, will go almost completely unnoticed.
Homelessness is a complicated and nuanced issue with many contributing factors. Each client experiencing homelessness will have a unique set of circumstances, strengths and weaknesses that contribute to their homelessness and impact their ability to get out of it. Understanding these factors, creating programs to address needs before they exist and providing the structure and supports is essential for successful prevention programs.
The RAFT has been providing effective treatment for the symptoms of homelessness for years. The Emergency Hostel and Drop In Resource Centre have been, and will remain, vital resources for homeless youth in Niagara. Clients come to the RAFT because the RAFT helps clients get back on their feet and move forward from the traumatic experience of homelessness. However, treating the symptoms of homelessness still mean there are youth who are homeless. For the past few years the RAFT has been moving more and more into prevention. Effective initiatives such as Youth Reconnect, Rent Supplement and the After School program, help youth stay within their community, remain involved in education, stabilize their housing, and develop skill sets and community connections to avoid homelessness in the future.
The success of these programs is reliant on three key factors, design, implementation and support. The RAFT has designed effective program models that encompass the latest findings and theories on homelessness prevention. These programs target multiple correlated contributing factors and function as an interconnected web of service to ensure clients can move effortlessly between programs and receive the support that fits their unique circumstances. Just as the best tool can only be as effective as the person using it; the RAFT programs are only successful due to the hard work and skillful delivery provided by staff. Without their care, dedication and commitment these programs would not be the successes they are. However, the best tool wielded by the best operator cannot work in isolation; which is why I would also like to thank the network of community partners, volunteers and supporters whose partnerships, commitment, time and support have been integral to the RAFT’s success in the past and its potential for the future.