Plenary Speakers

Plenary Speakers



Alex Abramovich

Independent Scientist, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research (IMHPR), Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Dr. Alex Abramovich has been addressing the issue of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness for over 10 years. His program of research focuses on health care utilization and service access for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness and transgender and gender expansive individuals. Alex has worked closely with municipal and provincial governments to develop strategies that address the needs of LGBTQ2S youth.


Mary Birdsell

Executive Director, Justice for Children and Youth

Mary Birdsell is a lawyer and the Executive Director at Justice for Children and Youth, a child and youth rights legal aid clinic. Mary advocates for the rights of children across a range of legal subjects, and at every level of court in Canada.  She established the clinic’s unique program offering legal services to homeless and unstably housed young people more than 15 years ago. Mary regularly speaks about the rights of children and youth, with young people and the professionals who work with them.  


Sydney Blum

Director of Community Impact, Woodgreen

As WoodGreen’s Director of Community Impact, Sydney brings a decade of experience building meaningful inter-sectoral relationships and catalyzing holistic housing and community service delivery. Sydney is leading the incubation and launch of WoodGreen’s new program, Free 2 Be (Housing First for Youth Leaving Care). She has also managed the province-wide scaling of WoodGreen’s Homeward Bound program across Ontario, including collaborative development of the Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound which is a cultural and place-based adaptation of Homeward Bound in 6 Friendship Centre communities. Sydney has a BA in Sociology from the University of Chicago and her MSc in Ecological Economics from University of Edinburgh. Outside of WoodGreen, Sydney is a volunteer and board member with the StopGap Foundation.


Kaite Burkholder

Project Manager, A Way Home Ottawa

Kaite Burkholder Harris is the Project Manager of A Way Home Ottawa – a coalition of youth with lived experience and community agencies working to prevent and end youth homelessness through community systems planning. Having worked as a frontline mental health worker, Kaite has a strong sense of some of the challenges that young people living on the streets face.  Motivated by a desire to see larger systems change, Kaite completed a Master’s of Public Health, with a focus on the way in which housing impacts one’s health, and is excited to be part of an initiative tackling youth homelessness through strategic community planning. Kaite is energized by engaging and mobilizing new stakeholders towards the goal of safe and affordable housing for everyone in our communities.


David Farrugia 

Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Australian Research Council & Fellow at the University of Newcastle, Australia


David Farrugia is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Australian Research Council ‘DECRA’ Fellow at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His research expertise covers the sociology of youth, including youth homelessness, rural and regional youth, and young people and (un)employment. He is the author of ‘Youth Homelessness in Late Modernity: Reflexive Identities and Moral Worth’ published by Springer in 2016.



David French

Director of Policy and Planning, A Way Home Canada

With 20 years experience working with Alberta’s most vulnerable young people, David has a passion for developing programs & policy that meet their unique needs. David led the development of Supporting Healthy and Successful Transitions to Adulthood: A Plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness, Canada’s first targeted plan to address youth homelessness, and supported its implementation across ten communities. David has taken a leave from Government of Alberta, to support A Way Home’s national youth homelessness efforts as the Director of Policy and Planning. He is a firm believer in harnessing the strength and leadership of the community and the voices and experiences of young people in helping shape effective and long-lasting policy change.



Aya Fawzi
Aya Fawzi, Carleton University

Aya is completing her Masters of Design at Carleton University. She has done research with A Way Home Ottawa and the University of Ottawa, exploring experiences of homelessness in marginalized groups. She worked with H’Art, an organization exploring artists and their experience creating artworks. Aya currently works at the Ottawa Hospital in the Center for Practise Change Research exploring perceptions around implementing technology. Her interests are in ethical design for behavioural change and understanding complex systems.


Dr. Stephen Gaetz  CM

Professor York University

Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub

Dr. Gaetz is a leading international researcher on homelessness, and is director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University.  He focuses his efforts on conducting research and mobilizing this knowledge so as to have a greater impact on solutions to homelessness. Stephen has played a leading international role in knowledge dissemination of homelessness research through the Homeless Hub.



Dr Cath Larkins

Director of the Centre for Children’s and Young People’s Participation, University of Central Lancashire

Dr Cath Larkins is Director of the Centre for Children’s and Young People’s Participation, University of Central Lancashire. Cath has worked with marginalised children young people for over 20 years using co-research with children and young people across Europe to challenge discrimination and improve services. She writes on citizenship theory and participation. She chairs Eurochild’s Advisory Group on Participatory Methods for involving children and young people in vulnerable situations and is Co-Convenor of the European Sociological Association childhood network.


Mike Lethby

Executive Director, Niagara Resource Service for Youth

Born and raised in Niagara, Mike worked in the local auto sector before graduating Brock University with an honours B.A. in Political Science and History. Mike also holds a Masters degree in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario. Mike is currently Executive Director of the Niagara Resource Service for Youth (The RAFT) a not-for-profit agency in the Niagara region working with at-risk youth and their families. Mike is an innovative leader working to create a systemic approach to addressing youth issues and youth homelessness in Niagara. He is a principal actor in moving the region’s youth service model from a reactive institutional crisis model to a preventative community model. Mike has overseen the development and implementation of Youth Reconnect (School based homelessness prevention) and Eternal Routes (Kinship finding and connection) programs as well as launching Niagara’s Housing First for Youth response. Mike is currently working with the Province of Ontario to launch a Social Impact Bond to support the scaling of the RAFT’s Youth Reconnect program to neighbouring communities.



Trevor McAlmont   

Director of Advocacy Services at the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth

Trevor McAlmont is Director of Advocacy Services at the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.  Throughout his 25-year career, Trevor has led initiatives in social policy, poverty reduction, income security and research aiming to improve outcomes for children and youth.  His scope spans leadership positions in various sectors including provincial government, municipal government, education, social services and health, supporting and working with vulnerable populations. Trevor has earned a Master of Education Degree from Niagara University and a Master of Business Administration Degree (MBA) from Laurentian University. 




Erika Morton

Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC)

Erika Morton has worked with the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC) since 2010. She has a BA in Sociology and a BSW from McMaster University. At the SPRC she is the Project Coordinator of the Street Youth Planning Collaborative (SYPC) which is a community based group comprised of youth service directors, front line workers and youth with lived experience of street-involvement and homelessness. She is also the Project Coordinator of the Youth Housing Support Project (YHSP) which is an initiative of the SYPC that provides a continuum of housing based supports for youth who are either at risk of or who are experiencing homelessness.



Naomi Nichols

Assistant Professor, Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Naomi Nichols is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at McGill University. She is the Principal Investigator for a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) project titled, Schools, Safety, and the Urban Neighbourhood and a SSHRC Insight Development project titled: Mapping the Influence of Engaged Scholarship. Prior to joining the Faculty of Education at McGill, Nichols completed a Post-doctoral Fellowship with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University. Nichols’ research activities and publications span the areas of youth homelessness; youth justice; alternative education and safe schools; inter-organizational relations in the youth sector; “youth at risk;” and community-academic research collaborations.


Clare Nobbs
Director of Transitional Housing at Egale. 

Clare Nobbs is the Director of Transitional Housing at Egale. She has fifteen years of experience in community development, housing advocacy and support, counselling and program administration with LGBTQI2S youth. Her Master’s research explored the impact of culturally connected mentoring on the emotional wellbeing and resilience of LGBTQI2S youth. While at Ryerson, she worked with Dr. Dawn Onishenko to explore the experiences of sexual and gender minority youth within the residential youth justice and child welfare systems.

Clare now oversees Egale’s counselling and crisis drop-in centre, Egale Youth OUTreach, as well as a Section 23 classroom for LGBTQI2S youth struggling with mental health challenges, and in early 2019, Egale Centre – a 30-unit transitional housing facility in the downtown east end of Toronto.



François-Olivier Picard
Member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council

François-Olivier Picard habite la ville de Québec où il étudie présentement à la maîtrise aux Hautes Études Internationales de l’Université Laval. Comme activités parascolaires, il est fortement impliqué comme leader sur son campus. Il est un vétéran de l’équipe de débat de FSA Ulaval et ancien vice-président des Affaires externes pour l’Association étudiante. Il a siégé à la délégation de la Ligue des États arabes de l’Université Laval et travail présentement au Bureau international de cette même Université. Il a mis sur pied une entreprise avec laquelle il offre des visites guidées de la ville de Québec à la course. François-Olivier a récemment participé à une course de grands voiliers entre Boston et Québec dans le cadre des festivités du 150e anniversaire de la confédération canadienne. En tant que membre du Conseil, François-Olivier souhaite encourager la participation des jeunes Canadiens à la vie politique.


Sheldon Pollett
Executive Director of Choices for Youth. 

Sheldon Pollett has been the Executive Director of Choices for Youth since 2001. During his tenure, the organization has become a national leader and partner in identifying best practices in the design and delivery of services to youth.

Sheldon is the former co-chair of the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness and is a founding Board member of A Way Home Canada – A National Coalition to End Youth Homelessness. He is also a member of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and a Board member of Raising the Roof. Sheldon is the current Chair of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health and Addictions, vice-Chair of End Homelessness St. John’s, and a member of the Centre for Social Enterprise Advisory Committee at Memorial University.



Melanie Redman

Executive Director, A Way Home: Working Together to End Youth Homelessness in Canada

Prior to becoming the Executive Director of A Way Home, Melanie was the Director of National Initiatives at Eva’s. In that role she directed the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness, the Eva’s Awards for Ending Youth Homelessness, and the Mobilizing Local Capacity to End Youth Homelessness Program, which works with communities across Canada to craft, implement, and sustain plans to end youth homelessness. She currently serves as the Chair of the Youth Homelessness Research Priority Area at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. Melanie is also the Chair of the Board of the Rainbow Food Education Foundation. Her passion for addressing the root causes of complex social issues drew her to co-develop A Way Home with partners across Canada.


Tiffany Rose
Youth Committee Advisor, Next Up

Tiffany Rose was born in London, ON and moved to Ottawa in 2014 for a fresh start. She is passionate about making a difference in issues regarding homelessness, addiction, mental health, sex work, women’s abuse, and child abuse (specifically, Shaken Baby Syndrome). Currently a community-based researcher, she has plans to work with youth and women on harm reduction and drug use in the future. Her work and passion is motivated by personal lived experiences. When Tiffany isn’t working, you can find her watching Netflix with her partner. She loves the colour purple as well as Greek and Caribbean food, and considers coffee and chips her vices.


 Scyndy Ross

Scyndy is a prolific mediocre artist who is an ex-homeless young adult. She does a lot of volunteering within her community on a peer to peer level doing outreach and health education to street youth. Recently she and others have started an outreach program run by current and ex-street youth/ transitional age youth.


Tina Slauenwhite
Planning Committee Member, Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition

Tina is Mi’kmaq and a member of the Sipekne’katik band, located in Nova Scotia.
In 2002, Tina moved from Nova Scotia to Ottawa to complete her education, and in 2003 received her certificate as an Addictions Worker. Since that time, with a focus on working with marginalized Aboriginal women and youth in Ottawa, Tina has held various positions from frontline worker to Executive Director of an Aboriginal youth transition house.
In 2014 Tina was appointed by her peers as Chairperson of the Aboriginal Community Advisory Board (ACAB), which is comprised of Aboriginal agencies who work with the homeless Aboriginal population in the city of Ottawa.
In her capacity as ACAB Chairperson, Tina currently participates as an active member on various committees, including “A Way Home Ottawa” Steering Committee, giving voice to the diverse needs of homeless and at risk Aboriginal population in Ottawa


Corinne Sauvé
Youth Committee Advisor, A Way Home Ottawa
Peer Supporter, Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa 

Corinne’s lived experience of homelessness as a youth is what drives her work in this field. She has been working as a Youth Committee Advisor and Peer Researcher for A Way Home Ottawa since 2016, where she had the chance to collaborate on The Opportunity Project: Telling a New Story About Youth Homelessness in Ottawa. In the same year, she was also hired by the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa as a Peer Supporter, mainly to advise on the implementation of a housing first model to better serve homeless or precariously housed youth. In 2017, she collaborated as a Peer Researcher in the Sex work, Safety and Housing study led by the Alliance to End Homelessness.

Larissa Silver

Director of Community Services, Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa

Larissa is an experienced leader in the non-profit sector with over a decade of senior management experience.  As the Director of Community Services at the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa, Larissa has focused her department’s programs for homeless and at-risk youth on the Housing First for Youth principles.  YSB Community Services includes two shelters, transitional housing units, three long-term apartment buildings and a drop-in centre downtown all serving youth 14-24.  Thanks to capital funding support from the City of Ottawa YSB is building another 39 unit apartment building with a service hub along Riverside Drive.  Prior to YSB Larissa was the Director of Programs and Services at Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre where she provided leadership across several programs including a 25 bed shelter for women and their children fleeing violence, counselling services, services for seniors and services for children and youth.  She was the Executive Director at Volunteer Ottawa right after moving to Ottawa from Calgary via Toronto.  Her educational background includes Women’s Studies, Sociology and Public Administration and Evaluation.

Jesse Thistle

Trudeau-Vanier Scholar and the Resident Scholar of
Indigenous Homelessness at the COH

Jesse Thistle is a Trudeau-Vanier Scholar and the Resident Scholar of Indigenous Homelessness at the COH. He is a road allowance Metis from Saskatchewan. His journey from homeless addict to successful university student is unusual among graduate students, but his path has shaped the way he approaches homeless studies, Indigenous history, criminology, social work, and addiction studies. His distinct perspectives were further developed as he participated in a wide range of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Canadian Institutes of Health Research projects as a research assistant and researcher.
While working as a field researcher for Dr. Carolyn Podruchny on the SSHRC project “Tracing Metis History through Archives, Artefacts, Oral Histories, and Landscapes: Bison Brigades, Farming Families, and Road Allowance People,” Jesse and Carolyn noticed a vein of unaddressed historic trauma in their road allowance Metis informants. The intergenerational trauma Jesse wrote about linked unresolved battle trauma, or post-traumatic stress disorder, to the descendants of Metis veterans who fought during the 1885 Resistance at Batoche, Saskatchewan. Jesse’s research in intergenerational trauma has already begun a process of healing within Saskatchewan Metis and Cree.

Bhavana Varma
President & CEO of United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington. 

Bhavana Varma is the CEO of the United Way in KFL&A.  She provides leadership to the Youth Homelessness initiative in Kingston and area.  Informed by the voice of youth, service providers and community stakeholders, the United Way provides backbone coordination to the plan to End Youth Homelessness in Kingston and Area through collective action.