Creating Peer Youth Leadership at The Doorway

The Cause

The Doorway provides an opportunity for street-involved youth (17-30 years old) who want to exit the streets, a two-year self-directed planning process called MyPlan. They set goals and plan steps in 13 different areas of life including housing, employment, education and health as examples toward transitioning to mainstream culture. On average, our graduate success rate is 60% which means young people have achieved and sustained stability for six months post-graduation. The Doorway has more than 1300 alumni and current participants who chose to leave street culture, using the self-empowerment planning process in a space of respect, dignity, forgiveness and free of judgment. They build physical, psychosocial, spiritual strength while building their skills in planning and problem-solving toward their own goals.
Growth in our street outreach and collaboration with other youth-serving agencies, has created a huge upsurge in young people coming to The Doorway in 2022 and 2023. The number of new participants increased 1000% between 2021 and 2022 and continues to grow.
An environmental scan and focus group conducted by external evaluators of The Doorway, found that gaps exist in the provision of homelessness services and supports in Calgary. Young people interviewed identified 3 key gaps in Calgary:
1. Lack of communal space to build friendships, connections, and space to support one another.
2. Lack of peer support provided by young people with experience of homelessness.
3. Lack of out of hours support (post 5 pm on weekdays and at the weekends).
Based on the housing first for youth model, the goal for supporting youth is not just to provide housing stability, but to maintain that stability, youth need holistic supports. Core principles include ‘strengthening their sense of belonging and self-identity, connecting them to community and assisting in rebuilding and developing their relationships with family and natural supports’ (Homeless Link, 2023). Indigenous youth can further benefit from being in a peer leadership role due to the increased cultural connectedness the role can bring, as well as improving their overall mental health, developing supportive communities, and being able to advocate for their own needs (Lund, 2022).

By offering peer leadership training to alumni of our program, we not only support the sustainability of their housing through these emotional needs, but also their financial needs through employment opportunities.

Who Will it Benefit?

Like numerous peer support research studies, we anticipate that young people enrolled in MyPlan will achieve better health and wellness outcomes when having the opportunity to discuss their dreams, goals, and actions with people who have similar life experiences. We expect that peer support workers at The Doorway will help to encourage and support young people to increase young people’s confidence in their decision-making. Another anticipated outcome will be an increase in the number of graduates completing the two-year MyPlan process and reporting increasing stability six months after graduating. Peer leadership training will increase the employment opportunities for past graduates.
Highlights of our peer model to include:
• Various ways of knowing and healing including traditional Indigenous cultures and practices.
• Training of alumni to support people specifically at transitional points.
• Quality assurance by incorporating national and international peer support competencies and supervision into training.
• Evidence-based best practice to ensure ongoing mentorship is provided to peer leaders.
• A focus on developing peer leadership qualities as well as peer support skills to further enhance the opportunities for peer supporters to secure leadership positions with the profession of peer support.
• The “employment first model” to prioritize securing or retaining employment to help with sustainability and stability of housing and mental health.
• Recruitment of 2SLGBTQ+ and Indigenous, diverse racialized young people with specialized mentorship to meet their cultural needs.
• Current peer workers can sign up for additional training to gain leadership skills often missing from their professional development opportunities.
• Building leadership capacity for practicing peer supporters through co-development of training and guest speaker opportunities. Supports the mobility of peer leader roles, through visibility and network building.