- Nightstop Ontario North America's first Nightstop one year on
Nightstop Canada - One year on
March 13th, 2018
"We cannot build ourselves out of homelessness so we looked to community hosting to be able to help us to solve that problem."
In 2017, the first North American Nightstop opened in York, a region just outside of Toronto, Canada.
Just over one year since the launch, we caught up with Jacquie Hermans, Nightstop Programme Coordinator for 360Kids, the youth charity which runs the service, to find out how Nightstop is impacting young people affected by homelessness in the region.
Why was Nightstop needed in Ontario?
“Within York region, on the surface it doesn’t seem like there is a homelessness issue, however we have many youths couch surfing, staying up at McDonald’s all night or in 24 hour coffee shops.
“It’s difficult to provide an accurate number of homeless youth in the York region, because we can’t obviously see it. There has been a point and count study and the study estimated there were on average 300 homeless young people each night.”
What does your charity 360Kids do?
“We provide 23 different programmes, so we offer everything from after-school programmes, to counselling, employment programs, housing workers, gang prevention and even a housing program for woman escaping human trafficking.
“We have youth outreach workers and even counsellors who go out into the community to meet youth at schools, coffee shops etc… We have a shelter that has fourteen beds. We also have two residential homes in the community. I won’t name every single programme, but simply say we have various programs that help take youth from a place of crisis and move them to a place of safety, stability and wellbeing.
“The current number of beds that we have available through shelters is not sustaining [the demand from young people]. We have about 40 shelter beds that are specifically for young people in all of York region, and 100 in total that would also be for adults, and it’s not meeting the need."
How did 360Kids find out about Nightstop UK?
“It was our last CEO Micheal Braithwaite who started to do some research on what other innovative opportunities are out there. He searched internationally to see the different programs and processes being used and how they could be applied to Canada.
“We cannot build ourselves out of homelessness so we looked to community hosting to be able to help us to solve that problem.
“We [360Kids] have so many different programmes and we wanted a really good solid prevention to homelessness, which is why we thought that Nightstop was a really good fit.
“When he discovered Nightstop UK and Depaul UK he was really excited by the fact that they had 30 years behind them of incredible experience, with all the processes in place, and with the risk assessments that were done. We were really impressed with all that.”
How did you set up a Nightstop programme in Canada?
“They hired me in November 2016, and March 2017 is when we launched Nightstop.
“So in between this time, we were getting the documentation from Depaul and we had to adapt it so it would fit Canada and meet the requirements of 360Kids with our policies and procedures. That took a little bit of time.
“Then Nicola [Harwood, Depaul UK’s Associate Director, Prevention], came to see us and we had five days of training to learn the ins-and-outs of Nightstop. After she left, we had some more homework to do to get ourselves up and running. That’s when I started information sessions in the community, and connecting with the media to spread the word.”
What was the reaction to the service from the local community?
“We got a lot of media involvement – the YRNG (York Region Newspaper Group) wrote a fabulous article and put it in all of the newspapers in our nine municipalities, we had television interviews, and radio interviews, all of which helped us to get lots of people coming out to our information sessions.
“In the beginning we had about 80 people who came out the various information sessions, and from that we had a really good base to then start the host assessment process. I lead the host training sessions, conducted the interviews, pet assessments and home assessments. We also put a panel committee together to review all of the assessment documentation for each of our hosts to ensure a good fit for our program.
“We had seven host families to start for our launch in March. Currently we have 14 hosts, 11 of them are active and another five are going through the assessment process.”
How many young people has the service supported so far?
“We have supported 13 young people, and that has resulted in 184 bed-nights, so some of our youth have stayed with us for more days than others. We had some stay with us two or three nights, a bunch were seven to eight days, but we did have a couple who needed to stay with us longer term.
“We find it’s easier with younger youth, 16, to 18-year-olds, as it’s easier for us to place them into a [long-term] programme. If we can’t do family mediation and reintegrate them into their homes, we have programmes we can put them in.
“The older youth...it’s a little harder for us to find that next step with them because we do have waiting lists for some of our programmes. That’s why their stay with Nightstop can be longer.”
What have been your biggest challenges setting up the first Nightstop in Ontario?
“I am a one-woman show for this programme and it is a lot of work, a lot of juggling of balls.
“A key issue for us is that the population of the area is about 2.2 million, and it’s a fairly large geographic spread with nine different municipalities. So from one end, all the way to the other end driving would be about two hours.
“When we’re placing youth they might need to take the bus for an hour or an hour-and-a-half to school, which in some cases youth are saying ‘No I’m okay, I am not going to do that. I am already exhausted and that will exhaust me more.'
“We do have some areas that aren’t covered yet. In some of the northern communities we don’t have hosts yet. We would love to have a few host families in each of the areas.
“We’ve just recently screened and trained a volunteer driver and we are in the process of partnering with an organization that has volunteer drivers we can work with. If we can get hosts in those higher need areas, we will be able to offer more support to the youth that are in need.”
How has Nightstop Ontario made a difference?
“We [the York region] don’t have a lot of beds in local hostels, they are normally at 80 to 100 percent capacity.
“One youth that came from one of our northern communities, a smaller community, could not get on with her mum. There was lots of conflict in the home. It wasn’t a healthy situation for her.
“She was kicked out and was living with a grandparent for a while, then the grandparent got ill and she was kicked out again. At this point she felt like she had nowhere to go. Her guidance counsellor directed her to Nightstop and we placed her the same night with a lovely family.
“They got along so well, they had a really nice connection, they cooked together, they went for dog walks together, and even had a bonfire. After eight days we were able to move her into one of our residential programmes which is where they have 24-hour staffing. The home has other youth, offers life skills training, they need to follow house rules and do weekly chores.
“She now has a part-time job and she is doing quite well. She does have aspirations of going to university. I am so happy for her that she has that motivation and drive to move forward, and move beyond what she faced.”
Where do you think she would have stayed without Nightstop?
"There was a local hostel in her area, but it was a pretty rough hostel with a lot of high risk youth there. She would have been surrounded by a lot of drugs, high mental health issues, criminal and gang activity, potentially drawn into human trafficking as well.
“When we asked her where she would have gone without Nightstop, she said: ‘I would have been on a park bench, I would have been on the street, I would have been trying to go to different friend’s homes, but breaking those relationships as she went along."
So, what does the future look like for Nightstop Ontario?
“We’ve been in discussions with Raising to the Roof, talking about spreading Nightstop across Canada. More funding and support would be needed to make that dream a reality.
"For now we will continue to expand the number of host families we have and provide outreach to the schools and referral partners to ensure everyone who needs the program, will have access to a safe home with a wonderful caring family.”
To find out more about volunteering or supporting Nightstop Ontario, please visit the 360Kids website.
If you'd like more information on Nightstop services in the UK, visit our network map.