Bedrock project building a solid foundation for youth housing

Phoenix Youth Programs has been working with young people in Halifax since 1987 and continues to adjust to new realities, such as the current housing crisis. As part of its Centre-supported Bedrock project, the non-profit group recently initiated a study to identify and explore other models that may enrich its service offering.

Asked why it is essential to work with young people who need help, as Phoenix Youth Programs does, Melanie Sturk answers easily. “First of all, it’s a question of human dignity,” says the non-profit’s organizational development director. She adds that it is above all a question of acting to break existing or developing behavioural cycles: preventing homelessness, but also preventing it from becoming a chronic state for those already living it, or avoiding intergenerational homelessness among young people who themselves have children.

A sense of security, which is important for everyone no matter their age, is “even more important for youth as they’re figuring out and learning about who they are,” she adds. “Positive adult relationships are something that we really try to provide to youth. And that trust-building and that relationship is often at the core of success.”

Since 1987, Phoenix Youth Programs has provided a range of services and activities to youth aged 11 to 24 in the Halifax area. Prevention services, housing services, and employability and education services, for example. “[We seek] to prevent crises— hopefully prevent crises and then manage crises and then help youth work out of the crisis as they strive to achieve the goals they have for their lives. We focus on the strengths of people, not on the deficits.”

Today, the organization has roughly 85 employees and offers its services in a dozen different locations. Each year, approximately 800 youth participate in Phoenix Youth programs.

Diversified housing services

“I think some people still think we are the ‘Phoenix House’, a home for 10 young people, which was our first location in 1987,” says Sturk. The organization now offers 20 shelter beds and 7 to 10 beds in the Phoenix Homes for Independence, where young people live under the same roof as a support worker. Other housing services include helping young people find and keep an apartment — an increasingly difficult task, says Sturk. In total, approximately 70 youth benefit from Phoenix housing services at any one time.

As a result of its strategic planning, the organization now wants to expand its services. The Bedrock project, funded by a $148,100 grant from the Community Housing Transformation Centre, is seeking to determine in what direction Phoenix should be heading. Its starting point is conducting research.

“[Bedrock] gave us the ability to hire a consultant, to do research on what’s happening within the greater community, but also what’s happening across the country and internationally in terms of housing models. And then helping us to take all that information, including from our own staff, and distill it down into options for us to pursue,” explains Sturk.

In addition to studying different youth housing models from here and elsewhere, the research report, written by the consultant Ren Thomas, is based on youth testimonials and a survey. In particular, it offers Phoenix three models for the expansion of its services.

“We’re going to work on Option 1 for our feasibility study, which is also part of this project,” says Sturk. “That is so exciting. It’s a multi-service centre about housing for youth. [We’ll] also look into a ‘foyer’-style housing model for youth.” According to Sturk, Phoenix was already interested in the idea of a multi-service centre, but the fact that this model was chosen in an external study gives the idea additional legitimacy.

A multi-service centre that includes on-site accommodation and a variety of services (which can also be offered to youth who do not reside on-site) would maximize the chances of success for youth who use it, says Sturk. This would prevent young people from having to travel around to different places in the city to obtain different services, which risks discouraging the use of those services. It could also reduce their “trauma as they re-enter system after system after system, or support after support,” she says.

The foyer model, on the other hand, would provide personalized support services to occupants.

As Phoenix explores new initiatives, the housing crisis remains alarming—for everyone, but for youth especially. One person who participated in the Thomas study testified that “when the [vacancy] rates are so low, there are so many different people applying, so it’s become a thing where the landlords can pick and choose, and that’s the part that really sucks, because it’s harder when you have a kid or a dog.”

In the past year, people were even trying to rent out corridors on classified sites, Sturk says, and landlords who would previously rent out to young people supported by Phoenix are no longer doing so, since they now have their pick of tenants. “And it’s hardly ever one of our youth.”

Phoenix workers have begun to help young people find roommates instead of helping them find an apartment. “We can’t find apartments for youth … we can’t actually move them forward into the next stage of their housing independence,” Sturk notes. “So our program is getting backlogged.

“It’s clear to us that we need to start to offer more options. Whether through the model of the multi-service centre or the foyer, we can start to provide our own housing options to move youth into.”

The photo illustrating the article shows the steps of the facade of one of the Phoenix Houses for Independence. Credit: Kinnon Job

A few months ago, Melanie Sturk talked about the Bedrock project and Phoenix Youth Programs’ experience with the Community Housing Transformation Centre in a video. You can watch it here.

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