The Foyer is a leading example of social innovation in the area of transitional housing. The Foyer offers an integrated living model where young people are housed for a longer period of time than is typically the case, are offered living skills and are either enrolled in education or training, or are employed. It is a transitional housing model for youth that has attained great popularity in the UK, Australia and elsewhere, and can offer inspiration for how we might address the housing needs of homeless youth, and in particular younger teens and those leaving care (child protection) or juvenile detention. The Foyer model is currently being piloted in at least two Canadian cities (Calgary and Edmonton), in ways that adapt the model to our context and integrate important innovations.
The research on transitional housing models for youth – including the Foyer – has identified some important characteristics of effective transitional housing models. These include:
- Centering the project on the needs of adolescents and young adults.
- Young people must demonstrate a desire for change.
- Adopting a client-centered case-management approach, and ensuring that young people have access to a range of services (which can be delivered internal or external to the organization).
- Allowing young people up to the age of 25 to stay as long as they need to. Young people should not be discharged into homelessness – or prematurely into independent living – because of defined tenancy limits.
- Clear plans should be developed and implemented that support transitions to independent living and adulthood.
- Focusing on personal development, life skills and enhancing self-esteem through supportive client/staff relationships.
- Facilitating opportunities for youth engagement – with their community and with recreational activities.
- Providing smaller facilities, or scattered site approaches that move away from more ‘institutional’ settings.
- Enabling financial support where necessary, so young people do not have to pay more than 30% of their income on rent.
- Education and training opportunities should be a central focus, and
- Aftercare supports should be in place for when young people leave transitional housing.
The form and program model of transitional housing should be designed to meet the differing needs of young people; this also includes the type of housing and facility. In many transitional housing programs, young people live in a dedicated shared facility, with around-the-clock support. Ideally, young people should have access to either individual or shared rooms (depending on age or need), and there should also be common recreational and social spaces. The congregate living environment is important for some youth, who will benefit from the companionship and a higher level of day to day support. This kind of institutionally-based arrangement may be more preferable for younger teens. For instance, a 14 or even a 16 year old may require the supports of a transitional housing program for several years (and certainly more than one), plus potentially aftercare support. This first stage is just part of the accommodation pathway for a young person who becomes homeless.
There are also transitional housing models that are not institutionally-based that offer a more decentered or dispersed scattered site approach to accommodation. For young people who are adverse to institutional-like environments, such transitional housing means that young people live independently or in small groups, and that the necessary supports are portable. The advantage of such an innovation is that it supports people in their transition from homelessness, gives them greater control over their tenure and is an alternative to an institutional living environment. Particularly for young people leaving care (group homes) or juvenile detention this may be more suitable. At the same time, what distinguishes transitional housing from enhanced accommodation (below) is that young people do not control the lease, although there are models that enable lease conversion (that is, over a period of time, a young person may take over the lease). Finally, it is important to consider the location of housing, for as Karabanow & Naylor identified, many young people struggling to leave the streets prefer housing that is removed from the areas where street youth congregate, lowering the risk of a return to street involvement.
One of the challenges of all transitional housing models is negotiating a smooth move from interim housing to independent living. One innovation to facilitate this transition involves the use of convertible leases. Young individuals with little independent living experience may prefer a housing option where they are not responsible for the lease at the beginning. However in time and as they develop greater independence, there is an opportunity for the lease to be transferred to the youth so that they don’t have to move, and depending on their need, some levels of supports continue. The advantage of this approach to transitional housing is that there is no set length of stay, and young people are able to assert more control and independence as they age. This approach to transitional housing has been implemented in a few Canadian settings. In Australia, the Youth Head Lease Transfer Scheme (now part of the “Same House, Different Landlord” scheme) has been in place for several decades. This “convertible lease” program has evolved over time, and evaluations have shown its effectiveness in supporting formerly homeless youth to move to independent living. In addition, when young people leave such housing to move into independent living, they are often able to take their furniture with them.
As we move forward in creating more effective responses to youth homelessness, transitional housing should be configured in such a way as to provide a young person with longer-term supports in order to build life skills and enhance individual capacity to become economically self-sufficient and socially integrated into the community. Unlike previous models that limit residency, these supports should be highly flexible and not time limited, based on the age at which a young person enters a program, and their need.
|Live, Learn and Grow: Supporting Transitions to Adulthood for Homeless Youth
By Stephen Gaetz & Fiona Scott
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.