Preventing Homelessness Among Young People: The Employment Factor

A plaza of shops below and Accommodations above surround a plaza
Whistler, B.C. Trip 2006 photo by Cloganese is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Remote Whistler, B.C. an elite, expensive ski town with little affordable accommodation that nevertheless needs low wage employees and apprentices.

Witnessing young people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver led to the creation of Zero Ceiling, which is based in Whistler, British Columbia. Zero Ceiling’s programs to support homeless youth have evolved over its 26 year history. Today, their Work 2 Live program offers one year of employment in an entry level position in Whistler’s skiing operations. The program also includes housing and other supports to make the employment experience a success. Some, such as a weekly group dinner, are mandatory, while others come into play if needed.

There are good reasons behind this employment program. People who experience homelessness before they 20 are more likely to experience periods of homelessness throughout their adult lives. There is a high prevalence of homelessness among young people who are transitioning from government care, and/or who identify as LGBTQ2S, and/or are members of a minority community. Also, the unemployment rates for all young adults suggest that finding steady work is a challenge.

When 90 people had participated in Work 2 Live, Zero Ceiling engaged researchers at Royal Roads University for an independent assessment of the program. The reviewers gathered evidence through focus groups with six kinds of stakeholders: employers, prospective employers, program participants, program graduates, housing representatives and Work 2 Live program directors. The results of the review are available from Zero Ceiling: Work 2 Live

An article about the employment component of Work 2 Live has just been published in the Children and Youth Services Review. The article’s literature review attests to the value of the housing and supports, especially in employment programs for young people who are homeless.

The article also includes quotes from the focus groups with employers, which add to the evidence in the literature review. For example, employers reported that the employees who had no experience of homelessness changed their perspective on homelessness when they worked alongside Work 2 Live participants.

The researchers conclude with recommendations that could apply to anyone operating or contemplating a program to improve the employment opportunities for youth who are homeless.

A summary of the report is available in Children and Youth Services Review: In Search Of Employment: Tackling Youth Homelessness And Unemployment

For those who lack a subscription to the journal, but want more information about the article, here is contact information for the researchers: Jo Axe (jo.axe@royalroads.ca), Elizabeth Childs (elizabeth.childs@royalroads.ca) and Kathleen Manion (kathleen.manion@royalroads.ca)