Melanie Redman
Ashoka Fellow since 2023   |   Canada

Melanie Redman

A way Home
Melanie is at the forefront of a transformative movement reshaping society's approach to youth homelessness by championing a shift from reactive crisis response to proactive prevention. Through…
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This description of Melanie Redman's work was prepared when Melanie Redman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2023.


Melanie is at the forefront of a transformative movement reshaping society's approach to youth homelessness by championing a shift from reactive crisis response to proactive prevention. Through collaboration with the public sector and frontline workers, she drives the adoption of prevention strategies through community planning, fostering alignment in policy frameworks that better support service providers in their efforts to assist homeless youth.

The New Idea

Melanie is leading a global transformative movement that addresses youth homelessness by shifting the focus from a crisis response to prevention, while actively involving all key stakeholders in the systems, thanks to an evidence-based approach. As the co-founder of A Way Home (AWH) Canada and the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MtS), Melanie is driving a paradigm shift that seeks to proactively tackle youth homelessness, emphasizing cross-systems and whole of government approaches for collective impact. The urgency of her work is underscored by a 2018 Government of Canada study, revealing that 50% of homeless people surveyed across the country reported first experiencing homelessness before the age of 25, with most falling between the ages of 12-20. Melanie’s team had advocated for this question to be asked in order to publicly cast a light on the issue. The Government of Canada recently released data from 2022, and the findings are consistent. Current homelessness programs in Canada are not typically accessible to those under 18, exacerbating the problem. Furthermore, according to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness who co-leads the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab alongside A Way Home Canada, the services available to those experiencing homelessness have lacked a strong evidence base for years, another critical gap in addressing the issue effectively.

In response, Melanie, as the entrepreneurial force in the co-founder relationship, launched AWH in 2015 and co-founded MtS in 2017 after securing $23.5 million to date for a series of demonstration projects in 12 Canadian communities. She and partner, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, followed this up in 2019 by securing CAD 17.9 million from the Government of Canada to invest in original research to fill knowledge gaps through their youth homelessness social innovation lab. Both organizations represent a single body of work driving forward this new idea in the field. Through MtS, a recognized Geneva UN Charter of Excellence, Melanie and her team, along with community partners, are actively generating and testing evidence-based and cross-systems solutions to combat youth homelessness. Equipped with this evidence, the team at AWH then supports municipalities, all orders of government, and frontline workers in adopting prevention policies and practices. The impact of these efforts is measured using a Commitment Curve, which reflects the level of stakeholder commitment to embracing the prevention approach. To mobilize knowledge and drive policy change, AWH develops toolboxes of bite-size information tailored for key stakeholders such as policymakers, practitioners, and philanthropists. These resources ensure that policy frameworks reflect the realities on the ground and support service providers who serve the youth. Notably, regions that have operationalized the prevention paradigm are witnessing a shift in funding, with financial resources increasingly allocated to organizations that have adopted prevention strategies rather than those solely focused on crisis response. Additionally, the AWH community of practice provides a platform for service providers to share experiences, learn from one another, and expand the reach of the prevention paradigm.

The impact of AWH extends beyond Canada, with chapters established in Belgium, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and the USA since 2016. This global coalition enables knowledge sharing across borders, fostering collaboration and adaptation of the evidence provided by MtS to promote prevention in diverse contexts. Together with her teams and industry allies, Melanie is effectively demonstrating that ending youth homelessness requires moving away from solely relying on emergency services. Instead, comprehensive cross-systems and whole of government approaches are essential to collectively address this enduring issue.

The Problem

Historically, homelessness services in Canada have lacked an evidence-based foundation. Although progress is being made, it is at the municipal level where crucial support for individuals experiencing homelessness is provided. However, the implemented solutions tend to focus on alleviating symptoms rather than addressing the underlying systemic factors. Since the 1980s, the initial response to homelessness has primarily been charitable in nature, focusing on building shelters, opening soup kitchens, and relying on volunteers. In short, the responsibility of resolving the issue of homelessness has been assigned to the frontline service providers. While these responses play an important role in addressing the symptoms, preventative mechanisms are necessary to reduce the need for broad solutions downstream. In many cases, policymakers are disconnected from the realities on the ground, resulting in policies that are short term and fail to effectively address the issue and support service delivery.

In 2018, a Government of Canada study revealed a startling reality: 50% of homeless individuals surveyed throughout the country first experienced homelessness before the age of 25. Many of them experienced homelessness for the first time between the ages of 12 and 20. According to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, over the course of a year, between 35-40,000 young people experience homelessness; at least 6,000 on any given night. In Canada, the response to youth homelessness predominantly involves providing ad hoc emergency services and time-limited support. Unfortunately, these services are often inaccessible to young people until they reach the age of 16 or 18, depending on the province. As a result, those under the age of 16 become the supply for sex, labour and drug trafficking. Furthermore, law enforcements are frequently called upon to handle activities that arise from youth homelessness, such as loitering, sleeping in public spaces, or panhandling. This misguided criminalization of homelessness not only fails to address the root causes but also exacerbates harm and creates barriers to exiting homelessness.

Until 2016, youth homelessness was not even officially defined. Without a clear definition, there was no basis for specifically addressing youth homelessness. This resulted in a universal approach to homelessness regardless of age, disregarding the unique needs and realities of young people. Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Stephen Gaetz from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and Melanie’s co-founder, Canada now has an appropriate definition to guide interventions. The definition states that “youth homelessness refers to the situation and experience of young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers, but do not have the means or ability to acquire a stable, safe, or consistent residence.” When people think of factors leading to homelessness, most think of individual factors. This definition recognizes the distinct challenges faced by young people experiencing homelessness and the pathways into youth homelessness are now understood to include structural factors, relational factors, and systems failures. For instance, some young people find themselves homeless due to a lack of support when transitioning from public institutions like child welfare, correctional facilities, and health and mental health inpatient care. Individual and relational factors include family conflict or a breakdown in key relationships within the home, adverse childhood experiences, and identity-based challenges for some Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ youth.

The Strategy

Prevention being largely an afterthought, society’s understanding of how to effectively prevent youth homelessness and generate improved outcomes for young people is limited. This challenge extends to all levels of government, as well as NGOs and service providers dedicated to supporting those experiencing homelessness. Through AWH and their Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab, Melanie transforms how society responds to youth homelessness by facilitating a shift from crisis response to prevention. Given the historical disregard on preventative solutions in North America, this paradigm represents a radical shift. To bring about this transformation, Melanie employs a range of strategies. First, she and her team develop a robust knowledge base in policy and practice regarding youth homelessness prevention. Her team frequently engages with individuals who have lived experience, and in those instances, they provide wraparound support to ensure that interactions are not extractive, and that people do not have to relive their traumas. Second, Melanie forges strong partnerships with community stakeholders, those in government, and researchers, effectively mobilizing this knowledge to enhance adoption of the prevention paradigm within the public sector and among frontline workers. Building on this momentum, AWH focuses on bolstering local capacity to implement and sustain effective preventative practices.

To address the knowledge and evidence gap, in 2019, Melanie and Dr. Gaetz were awarded a major government grant of CAD 17.9 million to fund original research on youth homelessness for six years, building on previous investments in their social innovation lab as a multi-year and multiphase body of work. MtS finances demonstration projects in partnership with community partners to explore, test, and refine solutions aimed at preventing youth homelessness. MtS also serves as a key actor to bridge the gap between research efforts and practitioners. As of 2022, MtS has funded 39 innovation research projects, as well as 15 demonstration projects in 4 provinces. These demonstration projects can be understood as enhanced pilots, with community partners receiving funding to test solutions while MtS conducts rigorous research and assessments around them. Some of MtS noteworthy projects in preventing youth homelessness include initiatives focused on Housing First for Youth, Housing First adapted for Indigenous youth, interactions between criminal justice and housing sectors, early intervention for those leaving state care, shelter diversion, and more. In 2021, MtS was designated a Geneva UN Charter of Excellence, facilitating the sharing of knowledge beyond Canada.

Equipped with the extensive research and comprehensive toolkit for stakeholders created by MtS, AWH then engages various municipalities in conducting readiness assessments. Melanie and her team carefully assess where jurisdictions are in their efforts to address youth homelessness and if they have adopted prevention strategies. They analyze the local systems, mapping out the roles and responsibilities of different organizations. This process enables AWH to identify policy agendas that local governments can implement to initiate their adoption journey towards a prevention strategy. Following the assessment, AWH actively collaborates with local politicians and frontline workers through community planning. Through ongoing engagement, they provide valuable thought leadership and practical tools to support organizations and the community in their prevention efforts. In addition, AWH assists these organizations in securing the necessary funding to turn prevention strategies into operational activities that yield positive outcomes for youth. Thanks to AWH and MtS, over CAD 40 million has been granted to develop the knowledge base on youth homelessness prevention, with the majority of those dollars going to deliver preventive services to young people and families in communities across the country.

AWH plays a crucial role in fostering positive outcomes for youth throughout Canada by promoting Collective Impact in youth homelessness prevention. To measure the effectiveness of their model, Melanie and her team utilize a Commitment Curve, a concept that gauges the level of commitment by stakeholders in embracing this paradigm shift of prevention. This commitment curve includes the following distinct stages: contact, awareness, understanding, positive perception, experimentation, adoption, and full implementation, which represent the progression for integrating a prevention-focused approach at the municipal level and among different stakeholders. By closely monitoring the commitment curve across different municipalities and stakeholder groups, AWH not only introduces and popularizes this paradigm shift, but also identifies areas where additional support, resources, or advocacy efforts are necessary to facilitate progress along the curve. The goal is to generate a collective commitment and alignment among various entities, prioritizing prevention strategies and policies that will contribute to tangible reduction in youth homelessness.

Between 2018 and 2019, substantial strides were made in York Region, exemplifying successful collaboration among stakeholders. This regional municipality, consisting of nine municipalities near Toronto, actively participated in a learning community led by 360°kids, an organization that helps youth overcome crises. The leaders of the organization demonstrated their commitment to staying informed about the latest research on preventing youth homelessness from MtS. In 2019, they undertook the development of a comprehensive regional strategy for community planning. AWH and MtS played pivotal roles in fostering partnerships with key stakeholders, including the public sector, school boards, the child welfare system, and youth services, ensuring the active engagement of numerous organizations in the prevention journey. Consequently, the community began to perceive itself as a significant force, recognizing that addressing youth homelessness requires a collective effort involving multiple actors and cross-system collaboration. This collaborative endeavour resulted in notable service alignment and an improved policy framework under a collective commitment to reduce youth homelessness.

Nationally, preventing youth homelessness has only gained traction in recent years. Evidence of impact includes significant shifts in policy and practice both in Canada and abroad. A decade ago, few organizations focused on homeless youth were involved in prevention efforts. However, there is now a strong interest in developing and implementing cross-systems mechanisms to help young people avoid homelessness. Melanie's team holds a virtual community of practice where practitioners can convene, exchange ideas, and share resources. Every year, MtS presents two youth homelessness prevention awards to organizations that have successfully transformed its response to youth homelessness in their region. This award not only recognizes the awardee but also serves as a valuable example for others to emulate and learn from. Survey data from 2021, indicates an even distribution of AWH stakeholders along their commitment curve, with 19% reaching the full implementation stage and 71% expressing interest in further engagement with Melanie and her team.

A Way Home started in Canada in 2015 and quickly became a global movement. Organizations dedicated to addressing youth homelessness proudly aligned themselves under an AWH coalition, recognizing the need for prevention and the importance of a distinct homelessness approach for young people. Prior to Melanie’s efforts, there had been no entity specifically designed to support the widespread adoption of prevention strategies. Consequently, AWH chapters have emerged in Belgium, Wales, Scotland, Australia, and the USA. These international chapters serve as invaluable platforms for knowledge sharing, facilitating the exchange and adaptation of evidence-based practices and research insights generating from MtS. In 2023, Melanie went on a two-month speaking tour in Europe, visiting and supporting other chapters in their advocacy for tailored prevention strategies aligned with their respective social and political landscapes. The global network of AWH ensures that the transformative work led by Melanie and her team transcends national boundaries, forging a collective force dedicated to preventing and ultimately ending youth homelessness on a global scale. In Canada, Melanie is set to advocate for a nationwide youth homelessness prevention strategy by engaging the Federal government with the objective of creating the condition to galvanize stakeholders to prevent and ultimately end youth homelessness.

The Person

Melanie was born in Missouri, USA, where she grew up in a working-class family – BBC World news was her only way to connect to the world. Tragedy struck early in her life when her father died in a house fire. Her family expanded when her mother remarried, resulting in a large, blended family with 15 children. Despite these challenges, Melanie was resourceful, even as a child. She would create and distribute flyers in her neighbourhood offering some of her skills, demonstrating that creativity and determination can make a difference despite limited resources.

Her exposure to faith-based programs led by her uncle and aunt in Alabama further ignited Melanie’s passion for social causes. Spending her summers there, this exposure laid the foundation for her commitment to social justice. In the late teens, Melanie worked for six consecutive years at a summer camp for disadvantaged youth near St. Louis, where she witnessed the struggles faced by many individuals. Over the past 20 years, she has witnessed systems failures at every turn as her youngest brother cycled in and out of drug addiction, incarceration, and homelessness.

Melanie earned two undergraduate degrees from Northern Missouri before completing a graduate degree in Non-profit Management, Social Policy, and Change in Boston. She worked throughout her college years to make sure tuition and the basics were covered. Equipped with a solid academic foundation, Melanie embarked on a professional journey that would allow her to effect change. While working in Seattle for the Epilepsy Foundation, she championed and oversaw the merger of the organization’s Oregon and Washington state offices. This experience taught her that instead of creating new initiatives, which sometimes add to the complexities of existing systems, people can better work together by consolidating and aligning efforts to achieve better results; a lesson that she now employs with AWH and MtS.

When she moved to Toronto for personal reasons, Melanie found herself surrounded by inspiring leaders and activists, including Ashoka Fellows. Benefiting from their support and guidance, she assumed the role of Executive Director at Project Canoe, an organization that fosters outdoor experiences for vulnerable youth. Later, Melanie’s journey led her to become a Director at Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth. It was during her time at Eva’s that Melanie witnessed the harsh realities of youth homelessness and the lack of prevention services and evidence-based responses. Motivated by this revelation and driven to shift the status quo, Melanie co-founded AWH in 2015 with a steering committee that she had established at Eva’s to look into youth homelessness prevention, followed by the establishment of MtS in 2017 with Dr. Gaetz, a leading researcher in the field of homelessness prevention. Her unwavering vision seeks to transform society’s response to homelessness by prioritizing prevention and addressing the root causes of the issue, rather than solely relying on responses during times of crisis.