UNEC for Europe establishes Toronto centre of excellence on youth homelessness prevention

UNEC for Europe establishes Toronto centre of excellence on youth homelessness prevention

Pictured here: Stephen Gaetz

A community driven by positive change leads with actions that match its passion. At York University, we believe that applying purposeful research to the world’s biggest challenges will help make necessary change that improves lives – here in Canada and around the world.  

Ending poverty and homelessness is one of the greatest and most important challenges we face. As of 2020, at least 235,000 Canadians experienced homelessness every year. York’s talented poverty and homelessness scholars are tackling this challenge with a bold and innovative new global initiative. 

As announced in June 2021, York is now home to the new Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention. It was established by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and it is the first Geneva UN Charter Centre of Excellence in North America. 

The centre will be co-directed by York’s Stephen Gaetz, professor in the Faculty of Education and president of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), together with Melanie Redman, president and CEO of A Way Home Canada

“This is a testament to the global leadership of our researchers in creating innovative, nuanced and effective solutions to youth homelessness,” is how our President and Vice-Chancellor, Rhonda L. Lenton, describes this new project. “We’re empowering our researchers to study the most vexing problems we face as a society, because as a university we care deeply about making a difference in people’s lives. This partnership proves what an impact the work of our researchers can have.” 

The Toronto Centre of Excellence will build on the work of the COH, also based at York. The COH has driven homelessness research across Canada and internationally since 2013. The Centre will assess the state of youth homelessness and prevention in the 56 member states of the UNECE, with the goal of putting youth homelessness and prevention onto public policy agendas everywhere. 

As Gaetz sees it, the global upheaval caused by COVID-19 makes the work of the Centre even more imperative. 

“In the context of the pandemic, we can see the folly of ignoring the role of prevention in addressing major social and health crises,” said Gaetz. “The Centre of Excellence will help us mobilize our efforts to transform our response to homelessness to focus on prevention. Working with a range of 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.” 

Redman adds, “Another benefit of the Toronto Centre of Excellence is that it connects our 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.” 

UNECE will support the work of the Centre of Excellence and the exchange of information, knowledge and experience within the network, as well as with relevant international and national organizations in the UNECE region, co-ordinating co-operation and exchange of experiences between the Centres of Excellence. 

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