By: Charity Brant, Transition Age Youth (TAY) Services, YMCA Youth & Family Services

Our location next to the U.S. – Mexico border affords many opportunities to collaborate with our Mexican neighbors, but chances to cross paths with our neighbors to the North are a little more limited. That is, until my colleague, Ahni Rocha-Redmond and I, attended Canada’s National Conference to End Homelessness (#CAEH18) in Hamilton, Ontario. Canada is leading the way in creating prevention and intervention models that end youth homelessness. Their experience was especially useful as we continue to recognize National Runaway Prevention Month and California Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month

Ahni and I attended workshops about philosophies and models, like Housing First, Streets to Home, and harm reduction, that broadened our minds and motivated us to incorporate them into what we are doing here in San Diego.

During Day 2, one of the keynote speakers mentioned the YMCA Sprott House, a housing program specifically for LGBTQ2S youth. Immediately, Ahni and I looked at each other and thought of our own work with LGBTQ+ youth in our housing and Our Safe Place programs. After a quick Google search and a few emails, we found out that some of the managers were at the conference too! 

We were lucky enough to set up a tour to see some of their spaces the next morning before flying home.

Our first stop was the Toronto YMCA Vanauley Street Centre which is a drop-in center by day, similar to our TAY Academy, and a shelter at night for 16-24 year olds experiencing homelessness. I dream of bringing the same combination of drop-in center and shelter to the homeless youth we see in San Diego!

It was brightly colored, welcoming and designed with heavy youth input. The main floor houses the drop-in center with computers, an employment center, clothes closet, showers and restrooms (or washrooms, as Canadians say).

The top floor houses 25 shelter beds in approximately 10 rooms, some double-occupancy and a few single rooms for occupants who may need privacy for individual needs. The shelter has no time limit so the youth can stay as long as they need. 

It is a successfully run housing-focused, harm-reduction facility where no young person is turned away for services. The approach permanently gets young people off the streets and into stability.

Ahni and I gobbled up the information and headed to our second stop—the Sprott House.

This designated Canadian Heritage Home has been remodeled to fit 25 beds in 25 rooms across 3 floors. LGBTQ2S-identifying young adults, ages 16-24, can stay for up to two years with 24-hour staffing available for supervision and support. 

The space was absolutely beautiful and we could feel the coziness that means so much to youth who come to the Sprott House from unsafe or unstable environments.

We learned so much from our Northern neighbors this week! We want to extend special thanks to the Toronto YMCA for their fantastic hospitality and inspiration that will benefit our youth experiencing homelessness and the broader San Diego community.