Approximately 150 million people are homeless and more than 1.8 billion people worldwide lack adequate and affordable housing. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has established the Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention, the first Geneva UN Charter Centre of Excellence in North America, to support efforts of cities and governments in fighting homelessness.
The center will be co-directed by Stephen Gaetz, professor of of Education at York University and president of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), and Melanie Redman,president of A Way Home Canada. It will build on work of the COH which conducted homelessness research from across Canada and beyond for many years.
Professor Gaetz says it will assess the state of youth homelessness and prevention in the 56 member states of UNECE to help get youth homelessness and prevention onto public policy agendas. He says the Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention is part of a network of centers with a mandate to exchange research-based knowledge, experience and best practices to support implementation of the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing.
“The charter places importance on gathering data on homelessness using common international standards to ensure comparability between member states. The data and national statistics will be made publicly available to support policy-making, research and economic development, and global and regional data repositories will be used to support the policy-making process,” says the co-director.
According to professor Gaetz, the center will contribute to a broader effort to prevent homelessness among young people around the world through the ‘Making the Shift’ project and related lessons learned. He says the research agenda of the observatory has been developed on the premise that solutions to homelessness exist and that communities across Canada can achieve them with credible evidence, supportive policy and adequate funding frameworks.
UNECE will facilitate the work of the Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention and the exchange of information, knowledge and experience within the network. It will also facilitate and exchange information, knowledge and experience with relevant international and national organizations in the UNECE region, coordinating cooperation and exchange of experiences between the centres.
Olga Algayerova, executive secretary at UNECE, says through this partnership they aim to raise visibility of homelessness on the political agenda throughout the region. She says the Covid-19 pandemic has bluntly showed we can’t live up to our commitment to leave no-one behind in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if the human right to housing is not fully guaranteed for all.
Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor of York University, says the establishment of the Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention is a testament to the global leadership of their researchers in creating innovative, nuanced and effective solutions to youth homelessness. She says under the guidance of their COH, the new centre will bring together experts, policymakers and local and international community partners to make a positive global impact on this urgent social issue.
Redman says another benefit of the Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention is that it connects their work in Canada to realize housing as a human right to a broad network of international partners and researchers who are also grappling with this question. She says their goal with this centre is to support UNECE member states to have the knowledge they need to act boldly in the face of the injustice that is homelessness
“Ïn the context of the pandemic, we can see the folly of ignoring the role of prevention in addressing major social and health crises. The Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention will help us mobilize efforts to transform our response to homelessness to focus on prevention. Working with international partners, the centre will provide a mechanism to collaborate internationally to understand how to effectively end homelessness and youth homelessness in particular. This is a big opportunity,” says professor Gaetz.