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.  


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.



Irwin Elman    

Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth of Ontario

Irwin Elman was appointed the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth in 2008 to elevate the voices of children and youth in its mandate. Drawing on the strength of young people, the Advocate’s Office has worked to fill the gap between what government, service providers and policy-makers intend, and the reality experienced by some of the most vulnerable children and youth in Ontario.



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.



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.



Cathy Malcolm Edwards

Campus Facilitator, Social Innovation (Carleton University)
IBM Visiting Design Practitioner


Cathy is passionate about creating and supporting positive change in the world. With 20+ years of experience in research and academic environments, she has an enthusiastic appreciation for the power that research and education have to improve lives and the world we live in. Using a human-centred design approach, she facilitates open dialogue, promotes collaborative engagements, and supports high-impact stakeholder relationships.



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.


François-Olivier Picard

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.


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.


 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.


Alastair Roy

Reader in Psychosocial Research and Co-Director of the Psychosocial Research Unit, University of Central Lancashire, UK

I am a Reader in Psychosocial Research and Co-Director of the Psychosocial Research Unit, University of Central Lancashire, UK. With a professional background in youth and community work, my principle interests lie in the fields of young people, drug use, mental health, gender and mobile and visual methods. My recent work has focussed on the development of mobile and place-based participatory methods. One example of this is Surviving Manchester, a study funded by Lankelly Chase Foundation to explore the everyday lives of vulnerable and marginalized young men in Manchester. My recent papers include: Learning on the move: exploring work with vulnerable young men through the lens of movement, in Applied Mobilities 1(2): 207-218  The visual matrix: A psycho-social method for discovering unspoken complexities in social care practice, with J. Manley, in Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society     


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.