Ask the Hub - Does Housing First “Leave Youth Behind”?

York University
April 25, 2014

Ummm, no, Housing First does NOT leave youth behind. This week, the Homeless Hub released a report, “A Safe and Decent Place to Live: Towards a Housing First Framework for Youth”. The key theme of this report is that Housing First can indeed work for youth – it actually can work for anybody – but that the program delivery model must be designed and implemented in a way that takes into account the needs of the developing adolescent and young adult.

Housing First does NOT leave youth behind.
Media Folder: 
While there was media coverage surrounding the launch of the report, some of it gave a misleading impression by suggesting that Housing First “Fails Youth” or “Leaves Youth Behind” (these were the headlines). The article correctly pointed out that we should be careful in taking solutions developed to address adult homelessness and simply assume they work for youth. It also pointed out that there is not a large body of research on Housing First for youth (…yet! But we’re working on it.) Unfortunately, the key message of the report was missed.

The report in no way suggested that Housing First was inappropriate for youth, or that those who champion Housing First are somehow letting young people down. Far from it. The report makes clear that Housing First can work for youth, and set out a framework for communities interested in conceptualizing and implementing a youth-focused approach.

The basic idea is that Housing First can be adapted so that it more effectively meets the needs of developing adolescents and young adults. This means incorporating the notion of ‘positive youth development’ into the core principles. It means ensuring that the housing options for young people include, in addition to scattered site housing, the possibility of returning home (through Family Reconnection), as well as transitional housing, for young people who prefer the congregate living environment and the more intensive supports at that stage of their life. It also means ensuring that support services are tailored to meet the unique issues faced by youth compared to adults. Youth who are homeless not only need different kinds of supports, they may also need them for longer. This is because all young people – whether they are housed or not - need a chance to grow in a safe environment and the time necessary to make a successful transition to adulthood and well-being.

So don’t believe the hype – the reality is that Housing First CAN work for young people, and communities should proactively consider adapting and implementing the model. In doing so and ‘getting it right’, it will be necessary to ensure that program models demonstrate fidelity to the framework of Housing First as outlined in our report.

To learn more, check out our report, executive summary and videos at:

Stephen Gaetz is a Professor in the Faculty of Education and is the Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub. He is also President of Raising the Roof, a leading Canadian charity that focuses on long term solutions to homelessness. 

Dr. Gaetz is committed to a research agenda that foregrounds social justice and attempts to make research on homelessness relevant to policy and program development. His research on homeless youth has focused on their economic strategies, health, education and legal and justice issues, and more recently, he has focused his attention on policy and in particular the Canadian Response to homelessness.  He has recently edited two volumes on homelessness in Canada, including: Housing First in Canada – Supporting Communities to End Homelessness. (2013) and Youth homelessness in Canada: Implications for policy and practice (2013). In addition, he has published a book on community-based responses to youth problems in Ireland and written numerous reports and articles published in a wide range of peer reviewed journals. Dr. Gaetz was Associate Dean of Research and Professional Development in the Faculty of Education Prior to his time at York University, Dr. Gaetz worked in the Community Health Sector, both at Shout Clinic (a health clinic for street youth in Toronto) and Queen West Community Health Centre in Toronto.

Dr. Gaetz has played a leading international role in knowledge dissemination in the area of homelessness. York played host to 2005’s Canadian Conference on Homelessness – the first research conference of its kind in Canada. In addition, York University now hosts the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub the first comprehensive and cross-disciplinary web-based clearinghouse of homelessness research in the world. The focus of this network is to work with researchers across Canada to mobilize research so that it has a greater impact on homelessness policy and planning.  Through the CHRN Dr. Gaetz is publishing policy relevant research, including two recent reports on youth homelessness: A Safe and Decent Place to Live: Towards a Housing First Framework for Youth. (2014) and Coming of Age:  Reimagining our Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada. (2014), as well as The Canadian Definition of Homelessness (2012), The Real Cost of Homelessness. Can we save money by doing the right thing? (2012), Can I See Your ID?  The Policing of Homeless Youth in Toronto (2011), and  Family Matters: Homeless youth and Eva’s Initiatives “Family Reconnect” Program. (2011).

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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.