The Carleton community is Here for Good. To us this means, we need to work together so that everyone has access to safe, affordable housing. Unfortunately, for homeless youth in our country, this isn’t the case. Often they die unnecessarily and tragically due to inadequate housing.
Youth homelessness in Canada is an ongoing crisis, with 35,000 to 40,000 youth experiencing homelessness across the country in any given year. The siloing of different sectors and services has led to a lack of coordinated responses to this complex issue.
The Spirit Flags Project helps mobilize the research that Dr. Jackie Kennelly and her team have conducted by bringing to life this tragic issue in a vivid and emotional manner. It ensures that the voices of youth, including those that are no longer with us, have an opportunity to be heard and be visible. By contributing to the The Spirit Flag project we can continue to raise awareness, inspire a new generation of researchers and practitioners, and catalyze dialogue necessary to create social change.
Youth themselves are the true experts on their own experiences and are well positioned to contribute to innovative, insightful strategies for addressing youth homelessness if given the opportunity. Carleton students will engage young people and members of the broader community in a process of memorialization that can help them contribute to a broader awareness of the terrible costs of not responding to youth homelessness as a society and as a country.
The Coming Up Together (CUT) Conference, convened by Dr. Jacqueline Kennelly In February 2018, with the help of a multi-sector steering committee and youth stream planning team made up of youth with lived experience of homelessness, brought together 200 stakeholders in the field of youth homelessness from the policy, service provision, and academic sectors across Canada and internationally. The conference facilitated knowledge exchange between the sectors; established regional, provincial, national and international linkages; enhanced sector capacity; and moved policy agendas forward.
One important component of CUT was the development of a knowledge mobilization project that would create a memorial for young people who have lost their lives due to homelessness. This project emerged from the youth team of the conference and the research that had been conducted. One of the youth had been compiling a list of young people she knew who had died. It was decided to create a memorial called the Youth Homelessness Memorial Spirit Flags. Through a community-campus partnership, we created an interactive and accessible design that would allow people to add names and images to the memorial at the conference.
Throughout the conference, attendees could create Memorial Spirit Flags to recognize and memorialize the lives of young people who have died unnecessarily and tragically because they did not have adequate housing or supports. In total, 97 flags were created by conference attendees by the end of the three day conference.
Many individuals at the conference commented that they would love to be able to bring the Spirit Flags to their community, in order to keep building the memorial and spreading awareness.
The Flags, with appropriate resource materials, including research snapshots (summaries), supplies and media kits, would travel to between 10 and 20 Canadian communities, including large cities but also small communities, Northern communities, and First Nations reserves. After the Flags have travelled and grown, we would bring them back to Ottawa and use them to raise awareness of the pressing importance of this issue and inform future research activities.
Money raised would allow us to hire a student coordinator to develop the research snapshots, organize the kits, and manage the travel of the flags across Canada. It is important that this project continued to be anchored in the lived experience of youth who have been (or are) homeless. Funding would allow us to properly compensate youth advisory committee members who have been actively engaged from the beginning in the project. We also would use the funds to purchase the materials for the flags and pay for shipping to the local communities across Canada.
On a personal level, the project offers a means by which community members can express, reflect on, grieve, and offer back a visual representation of the all-too-real cost of youth homelessness.
In the wider context, the creation and public display of these Spirit Flags will help to provide a visual and thought-provoking symbol of the terrible costs borne by young people who experience homelessness. Similar to AIDS memorial projects, and others of this kind, the visual representation of people who are otherwise overlooked, stigmatized, and marginalized will help to promote awareness about the urgency of this issue for Canadians, and the necessity to act.