Innovation summary

Street-involved youth each have unique and specific reasons for turning to this lifestyle but regardless, street life is typically a last resort. Many youth have tried to make things work at home or at school but find that the support available to them through these conventional means are not enough, or cannot help them overcome their personal barriers. As a result of this lack of support, youth often feel they do not have a choice other than to leave home (i.e. family unit, group home, foster home or juvenile detention center) and turn to a lifestyle on the streets. Many of these youth do not fit into the traditional mainstream school system, and face a myriad of barriers including bullying stigmatism due to their sense of individuality or sexual orientation, and feelings of isolation.1,2 As a result of these problems, their mental wellness suffers and many face depression or anxiety.  Drug and alcohol abuse are frequently involved.3,4  

Operation Come Home (OCH)’s Rogers Achievement Centre seeks to use the transitional education model to engage street-involved youth in academic studies outside of the traditional classroom setting by providing “non-mainstream” academic opportunities for street-involved youth, which are linked to specific mental health and addictions support. 

Impact summary

  • 37 youth received addictions support at OCH from 2013-2014
  • 6 youth enrolled in Rogers Achievement Center (RAC) and 3 enrolled with another school
  • 8 youth obtained/maintained employment after completing RAC program
  • 11 youth were referred to outside substance use treatment/support groups, 10 referred to mental health outreach worker

“When I first came, I was 17. I was addicted to several things, I had no home, I was on and off the streets…They encouraged me to strive for better … and most recently to graduate”


-Youth participating in Rogers Achievement Centre program

Innovation details

Operation Come Home (OCH) has been working with at-risk and homeless youth since 1971. OCH provides a variety of supports in an integrated manner, centered on their drop-in center. The drop-in/resource center is the first point of contact for youth, providing crisis and social support, a breakfast program, a clothing cupboard, housing support, and harm reduction supplies on a needs-basis. Through this resource, youth can access outreach workers such as a mental health nurse, and a sexual health nurse. These resources are offered in an open, safe and non-judgmental environment. Once the youth is stable, they are directed to other specialized services provided by OCH such as the educational program. OCH uses the Stages of Change Model to assess client readiness for support, which helps to ensure that both the client and the provider know what the appropriate and most efficient next steps are for treatment and support.

The RAC Transitional Educational Program

The RAC transitional education program provides full time course instruction with a licensed teacher through a partnership with the local School Board. Unlike mainstream school settings, the program is flexible and accommodating: students are only expected to work 2 hours per day, and have the option of accessing the support services on a drop in basis or through scheduled meetings, either onsite and offsite. Multiple supports are integrated with the curriculum including social, literacy and educational supports:

  • A teacher provides assistance for all students individually: setting educational goals, working on individual credits, coordinating work placements, assisting with credit recovery and preparing for standardized testing. There is an emphasis on alternative education strategies, through the use of experiential learning, and support beyond curriculum, with the teacher advocating for youth and providing overall guidance and encouragement.
  • A social support worker encourages, motivates and assists youth. They encourage success through problem-solving, counseling, one to one support, crisis intervention, referrals, advocacy, personal goal setting, field trips, housing support, resume writing and assisting with tackling any other barriers that would prevent the student from attending and completing the school program successfully.
  • A literacy support worker helps any students needing assistance with their reading or writing skills as well as with financial literacy.  The literacy support staff also helps fill out applications.
  • As one of the most common and influential barriers that students have to face is addictions and/or mental health concerns,5 an Addictions Support Staff offers one on one support to students who would like to work on harm reduction, and recovery from previous addictions. They also provide referrals for students with both addictions and mental health concerns.

Working with the education team, the mental health outreach nurse, other community health services and the Mobile Crisis Team allows OCH to provide a wrap-around model of assistance for youth that feeds into and encourages success in the educational setting. 

Key drivers

Support in Schools Increases Success of Program

OCH is part of a community initiative to provide addictions support in schools called Project S.T.E.P. The combination of Project S.T.E.P.’s principles (support, treatment, education and prevention) and the harm-reduction approach taken by OCH increases the success of the program.

Program Flexibility Increases Support

Program flexibility increases the accessibility of mental health, addiction and educational support

Successful and Sustainable Collaborations

Consistent collaboration with community partners such as Royal Ottawa Hospital, Canadian Mental Health Association, Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre etc. on mutual clients and referrals

Staff Education and Training Programs Provided

Availability of education and training for staff on best practices, assessment tools and latest research ensures the ideal support is provided


Lack of Funding and Human Resources

Funding and human resources limited availability and accessibility of support: Prior to United Way funding for an addictions worker through project S.T.E.P., students were only able to meet with an outreach worker from an external organization one day a week for addictions support. There were limited human resources for mental health support as the availability and number of nurses on site was much lower than the need.

Lack of Student Retention

The RAC program works with homeless youth, some of whom are actually living on the street or in shelters, with concurrent challenges of addiction and mental health concerns.  When crises arise in the lives of the students, they tend to feel overwhelmed and choose to focus only on the new problem. 



  • Rogers Youth Fund
  • United Way (Project S.T.E.P)
  • The Ottawa Catholic School Board

Key Partners

  • Sage Youth
  • The Rotary Club of Ottawa
  • Ottawa School of Art and volunteers
  • Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
  • Royal Ottawa Hospital staff

Evaluation methods

An initial evaluation was undertaken by MeasuredOutcome, an external evaluation agency. The evaluation sought to understand the impact of OCH’s programs on drug and alcohol abuse, living conditions, educational performance, and emotional wellness. Over the course of 6 months, this evaluation tracked the experiences of youth enrolled in OCH’s non-mainstream academic program and/or accessing the mental health & addictions support.

Feedback was gathered from intake counsellors, mental health & addictions counsellors, and program participants through three unique survey evaluation tools developed by OCH and three other school programs with the support and guidance of MeasuredOutcome.

The addiction worker completed entry and exit surveys with program participants to build a profile of the demographic of youth served. Information from the mental health and addictions supports workers helped track participants as they progressed through the program, and gaged group changes in mental health-related outcomes such as drug use. Program participants completed entry and exit surveys structured to capture their experience and state of mental wellness, including emotional well-being, sense of self, and life goals.

Cost of implementation

A formal cost-benefit analysis has not been conducted. The cost of implementing the program is approximately $42,000/year.

Impact details


  • 37 youth received addictions support at OCH
  • 6 youth enrolled in Rogers Achievement Center (RAC) and 3 enrolled with another school
  • 8 youth obtained/maintained employment
  • 11 youth were referred to outside substance use treatment/support groups, 10 referred to mental health outreach worker
  • 2 youth completed their high school education through RAC and 1 is currently attending post-secondary


  • 29 youth received additions support at OCH
  • 9 youth enrolled in RAC
  • 7 youth referred to outside substance use treatment
  • 40% of youth experienced severe mental health concerns
  • 57% of youth abused alcohol
  • 55% of youth had severe dependency on drugs
  • 2 youth completed high school education through the Rogers Achievement Centre and were accepted into post-secondary 
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