Research Matters Blog
In the year 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released a report calling for communities across the U.S. to develop and implement 10 year plans to end homelessness. The shift from managing homelessness to ending it became a priority and by 2010, over 300 communities in the U.S. have developed 10 year plans to end homelessness.
The question is do they work? Are cities with plans to end homelessness actually ending homelessness? While specifics vary across communities, the following are three examples:
The Denver plan was implemented in 2005. In the first two years, they had reduced over all homelessness by 11% and chronic homelessness by 36%. They further assisted over 3,600 homeless people to find employment and developed over 1,500 new housing units for homeless people. 1
Despite the downturn in the economy, in a two year period from 2007 to 2009, chronic homelessness was reduced by 35%. This was largely because 320 people were housed and 298 supportive housing units were created. Core strategies within the Sacramento plan include adopting the ‘housing first’ approach and creating permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities. 2
Within four and half years, over 2,000 people received housing. In 2009, 757 people received discharge planning upon release from health, psychiatric and correctional facilities to prevent homelessness. Since 2005, more than 3,643 households received rental assistance and avoided eviction into homelessness. Of those who were contacted 12 months later, 81% were still in housing 3 .
Currently, ending homelessness efforts are happening internationally and in 2008 Calgary became the first Canadian city to implement its own 10 year plan. Challenges were many. Any successful plan would need to build on international successes but be locally relevant. A paradigm shift was necessary, that is, shifting the thinking of politicians, policy makers, service providers and people experiencing homelessness that ending homelessness was not only necessary, but possible. As well, success required building multi-sector support for the plan, ensuring the plan was community led and sustainably funded.
Despite these challenges, in the first two years of Calgary’s plan there have been numerous successes
- more than 3,000 affordable housing units have been funded through partnerships with all three levels of government
- more than 1,500 people have received housing with support
- the number of people accessing Housing & Urban Affairs shelters has stabilized on a monthly basis after years of continuous growth
- the allocation of more than $70 million dollars in funding towards best practices for ending homelessness including priority to ‘housing first’ programs
- development of a policy agenda for municipal, provincial and federal governments to increase the stock of affordable housing, to reduce barriers to access supports and to expand homelessness prevention efforts
- implementation of Calgary’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) in 25 agencies by December 2010, with a total of 80 participating agencies will be online by 2012.
In addition, a considerable amount of rigorous collaborative research has been done in Calgary and across Canada leading to a clearer understanding of people’s experiences, pathways and patterns of homelessness and the economic and social costs associated with managing instead of ending homelessness. Examples include development of a toolkit for use with the Re-housing Triage Assessment Tool for prioritizing interventions for those most at risk, the Risks and Assets for Homelessness Prevention developed to prevent homelessness, dimensions of promising practice for case management in housing first, an ethnographic account of panhandling and informal labour amongst homeless Calgarians, exploratory GIS analysis of vulnerability, and housing challenges for newcomers. Development of best practices for the ‘support’ in ‘housing first’ and local, national and international networks have also been established.
Most important, momentum is building. All seven cities in Alberta have their own plans and Alberta remains the first and only province committed to ending homelessness. All of this progress is evidence that government, academics, researchers, service providers and our homeless neighbours are committed to ending homelessness and that comprehensive, collaborative 10 year plans do work.
Several years of learning from around the world and almost three years in Calgary show that ending homelessness is a process that is constantly evolving. We must continue to learn, adapt, and fine tune, to ensure that interventions are appropriate, reflective and relevant and have one definitive goal, ending homelessness.
1. Denver: Beyond Planning. Here
2. Sacramento City and County: 10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness http://sacramentostepsforward.com/
3. Home Again: a 10 year plan to End Homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County. 2009 Annual Report: Here
Tim Richter is the President and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. He was drawn into a new career in the non-profit sector by the opportunity to lead the development of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness as project manager for the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. Prior to joining the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Tim was Director of Government Relations at TransAlta Corporation, one of Canada’s largest private power generation and wholesale marketing companies with operations in Canada, the United States and Australia. In addition to his work in the private sector, Tim has a long history of public service including work as a political staffer in Ottawa and seven years service in the Canadian Forces Army Reserve.
Katrina Milaney is the Manager of Community Based Research and Knowledge Mobilization with the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Katrina has been a researcher for several years engaged in numerous collaborative projects that uncover the root causes of social issues and how solutions to those social issues can advance social change. Katrina has a Masters degree in Community Health Sciences and is currently pursing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is a regular guest lecturer at the University of Calgary has been with the Calgary Homeless Foundation since June 2009.
Would you be outraged if your child was exposed to violence? Would your community consider this unacceptable?
That’s what I thought.
Then why do we, as a society, tolerate this when it comes to homeless youth?
In 2009, Bill O’Grady and I interviewed 244 homeless youth in Toronto. We asked them about their life on the streets and if they’d ever been a victim of crime. What we found was astounding and we’ve documented it in our report: Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth Victimization in Toronto (2010).
People tend to think of homeless youth as trouble makers and delinquents; as perpetrators of crime rather than victims. But that’s not what we found. In reality, street youth are often the victims of violent crime. This is mainly because of the vulnerability they face by not having a home. To make matters worse, we found that this victimization isn’t really being addressed by the police or the courts.
Here are some of the Key findings fromour research:
- When young people become homeless, they are much more likely than youth with homes to be victims of crime and violence.
- Young women in particular are much more likely to be victimized, and report high levels of sexual assault and partner abuse.
- The younger you are, and the earlier you leave home, the more vulnerable you are to criminal victimization.
- The solution to this problem lies in changing the way we address youth homelessness.
If the levels of violence and crime found in our study were experienced by any other group in Canada, there would be immediate public outrage and pressure for the government to take action. Street youth deserve that same level of outrage directed toward their personal safety. They deserve the same response that any other group in Canada is entitled to.
I have written about this subject before, and with this new research, I am even more convinced that our current response to youth homelessness is not working. There is no doubt that being homeless puts young people at a high risk for violence and crime, and that we should be doing anything and everything we can to give young people the safety and support they need to get off the streets.
For street youth to have an opportunity to move forward in life, they need to be safe and protected from all forms of crime. Having a roof over ones head should not be a factor here and we need to press our government to make changes so that young people who become homeless have real options.
Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth Victimization in Toronto was created for Justice for Children and Youthand was written by Stephen Gaetz, Bill O’Grady and Kristy Buccieri.
So here I am at the 16th Annual National Urban Aboriginal Housing Conference in Ottawa! I am excited to be here amongst the likes of Senator Art Eggleton, author of In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness, Libby Davies, who introduced Bill C-304, an Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, to the House of Commons, and Patrick Reid, who was featured in the award winning documentary Something to eat, a place to sleep and someone who gives a damn!
I'm here representing the CHRN in hopes of garnering support for the development of a national Aboriginal Homelessness Research Network. This network will bring together researchers and those interested in research related to homelessness and Aboriginal populations. The objectives are to:
a) create stronger connections between researchers and those who use research;
b) build research capacity in the area of Aboriginal homelessness;
c) strengthen the network for the dissemination of research in Aboriginal communities; and
d) create conditions whereby research on Aboriginal homelessness contributes to solutions to homelessness.
There are many people all over the world researching, writing and producing knowledge on homelessness and poverty-related issues. There is also a growing body of research in Canada and elsewhere that focuses on homelessness from the perspectives of Aboriginal populations. However, this research is often difficult to find, and one could argue that the links between the researchers and those who use the research are fairly weak.
Given the profound impact homelessness has on Aboriginal communities, it's important that we find ways to develop the capacity of Aboriginal researchers, students, and leaders to frame the questions around research needs, policy development and systematic responses to homelessness within these communities. These responses must be relevant and meaningful, and provide effective solutions to ending the pervasive homelessness which exists throughout the country for many Aboriginal communities.
It's thus the goal of the CHRN to enhance the efforts of individuals, institutions and networks engaged in Aboriginal homelessness and housing research through increasing institutional support for collaboration, and by providing opportunities to create new linkages and activities.
As I said, I am very excited to be here, as I've already mobilized interest from folks at the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, the National Aboriginal Health Organization and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. I'm confident interest will only grow as the days wear on!
If you are interested in being part of a national Aboriginal Homelessness Research Network and want to help set the agenda, please feel free to be in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
When you hear the word “homelessness,” what comes to mind? If you are like most people, you probably think of the men who sleep on the hot-air grates in downtown Toronto. That is the image that so often accompanies media stories about homelessness.
Several things about that image hide the reality of homelessness for many Canadians. The first part is the person’s gender and age. There are many homeless women and children too, although in their case it seldom takes the form of sleeping on the street. That is another problem with the image – it equates homelessness with street life. In reality, homelessness can take multiple forms, including moving from shelter to shelter or “couch-surfing” (that is, staying with friends when one loses one’s own home).
The image usually features a solitary figure, which obscures the fact that entire families may become homeless. Indeed, some of those who appear to be alone may simply be separated from their families by homelessness. Finally, the setting (downtown in a big city) is a cliché. Homelessness exists in towns and cities of all sizes, in the suburbs and in rural areas, and in all the provinces of Canada.
Last year, I helped edit an online book collecting the best Canadian research available on homelessness. The thirty chapters encompassed the experiences of women and their children, Aboriginal people, frail seniors, youth, immigrants (some of whom become homeless shortly after arriving in Canada). They included research on food insecurity, social stigma, moneymaking strategies, child custody, the physical and mental health problems of homeless people, and the intersection of homelessness and crime, as well as promising efforts to reduce homelessness or alleviate some of its effects.
Did we cover the full spectrum of the problem? Not even close. This week we added another ten chapters to fill the many gaps.
One important new chapter is about homelessness among women in Canada’s North, a particularly urgent issue. Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut share a high cost of living, limited employment opportunities, underdeveloped infrastructure, and a shortage of social services. Women who lose their housing have few places to turn. Yet we hear very little about their plight in the rest of Canada.
Another chapter deals with homelessness among Aboriginal peoples in the Prairie provinces. This group spends a lot of time on the move, and many go back and forth between urban centres that offer work, services, and a wider range of housing options, and their home communities, which offer a connection to family and traditions. Yet in neither place are these people completely at home.
A third chapter looks at homeless women in small cities and towns in Ontario, social isolation, low-quality social services, and weak public transit infrastructure create barriers to seeking help.
We also consider the ethics of research into homelessness. It is important to understand and communicate the experiences of people who often have no voice in society, but it is equally important not to appropriate their voices. Many of the chapters contain the words of homeless people, men and women, young and old, describing their stories and tryng to make sense of an arduous life in a hostile world.
In presenting these diverse perspectives on homelessness, we hope to remind Canadians that homeless has not disappeared, even though the recent economic downturn has meant that many people are too worried about their own futures to pay attention to the plight of those even less fortunate.
At the same time, we stress that although homelessness affects a diverse group of people, it is not a complex problem. Yes, you read that correctly: it is not a complex problem.
After all these years of research and policy analysis and documenting the lived experience of those affected and those who provide support services, we know what the causes of the problem are. That means we know what the solutions are.
When individuals or families run into serious difficulty in one or more of the three key areas that support a decent standard of living, they may find themselves unhoused and potentially on a downward spiral. The three areas are: housing, income, and support services. Groups already facing inequities, discrimination, and violence are often the first to face difficulties in these areas when the economic tide changes.
An adequate standard of living means not only that good-quality health care is available to everyone, but also access to adequate housing, employment at a living wage, and essential support services must also be available for everyone, not just those who can afford them – and that systemic inequities are addressed in social policy.
We know what we need. We need social protections that prevent people from becoming unhoused. We need programs that ensure that no one will be unhoused for more than a very brief period should a crisis of some sort arise. We need policies that correct historic and systemic inequities, and that provide adequate, affordable and secure housing, an adequate income or income support when needed, and adequate support services if these are required (for addictions, mental health, and so on). Only then will we begin to solve the problem of homelessness.
J. David Hulchanski is Associate Director, Research, for the Cities Centre and Professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, and co-editor of an electronic book on homelessness, Finding Home, available on the Homeless Hub, www.homelesshub.ca/FindingHome.
Just when I think I've got a debate resolved in my head, new research comes along and makes me think again. I'd like to put a question to blog readers... Last year, I wrote
Last year, I wrote a policy paper on the Housing First model of rapid rehousing of the homeless.
In the paper, I argue that the Housing First model, unlike the "treatment first" model, does not require homeless people to go through a transition to "housing readiness" (i.e. learning money-management skills, learning life skills, following the treatment plan of a psychiatrist, etc.). Instead, the Housing First approach provides homeless persons with almost immediate access to permanent housing.
In the paper, I also argue that the academic literature on Housing First is very positive, demonstrating that Housing First appears to work very well for up to 90 percent of people it tries to house.
Moreover, I argue in the paper that in just a one-year span in the lead-up to the publication of my paper, staff from Toronto's Housing First program (known as "Streets to Homes," or S2H for short) had travelled to 23 different Canadian cities to discuss the program with local officials.
Furthermore, Regina, Ottawa, Grand Prairie, Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton had all sent contingents of staff to Toronto to learn from S2H officials.
Finally, Lethbridge, Sudbury, Ottawa and London already have Housing First programs in place, and Edmonton and Victoria expected to have Housing Fierst programs in place in the very near future.
In short, while homelessness policy wonks had spent decades debating whether homeless persons could in fact be housed, the debate now appears to be over. Indeed, it now seems rather clear to most that, provided there's a suitable affordable housing unit for the person to go to (and that is not always the case in Housing First programs, as I argue in Section 5.2 of my paper), we now accept that the problem of homelessness can best be solved by providing housing to the homeless as quickly as possible.
No more policy conundrum, right?
Enter a new report that I recently discovered while perusing the Homeless Hub. In said report, four researchers (Adam Fair, Hollis Moore, Jennifer Robson and Barb Gosse) report on results from the Independent Living Account (ILA) project of Social Enterprise Development Innovations (SEDI). According to the report, ILA assists "residents of Toronto shelter system to save, build life skills and subsequently move into their own place."
According to the new report
"The ILA model was designed to test the effectiveness of matched saving incentives in supporting individuals living in the shelter system to save for expenses related to moving out on their own. Participants enrolled in the ILA are provided with assistance to open a bank account and start saving. To incentivize this saving, SEDI offered a virtual $3 in match credits for each $1 saved, up to a maximum personal savings of $400. Participants are also required to work with a case manager on a savings plan and attend a financial literacy workshop which lasts approximately 12 hours. If a participant meets all of the program requirements they are eligible to use their credits, combined with their own savings, to pay for first and last month’s rent, utility hook up, moving expenses as well as supports to employment."
The report goes on to say
"The results suggest a conservative estimate of a $2.19 return for each $1 of project costs within the first year following project graduation. It is also worth noting that the analysis of the base case (existing environment) estimates a negative return of nearly -$0.74 for each $1 invested in the current system of support for those moving through the housing continuum to exit homelessness. This result clearly illustrates the investment potential created by the ILA model."
While I don't see a direct contradiction between Housing First and the ILA approach, I do see an inconsistency.
I believe it was Confucius who said "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."
Housing First says:
- give homeless persons keys to housing unit ASAP; and
- have Housing First staff work with the person's income support office to cut out the bureaucratic red tape so that the person can move right into housing ASAP. In other words: give the man the fish and, no disrespect intended to Confucius, but he'll keep fishin'.
The ILA approach says:
- teach the homeless person financial literacy skills with some matching funds/incentives; and
- when they put aside sufficient money, they can move into a new unit. In other words, teach the man to fish.
So, my question for blog readers is: how do we reconcile the successes of Housing First with the successes of the ILA project?
Nick Falvo is a doctoral candidate at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration and teaches a course on affordable housing and homelessness in Carleton’s School of Social Work. His research interests include poverty, affordable housing, social assistance, homelessness and post-secondary education policy. Under the supervision of Dr. Frances Abele, he is currently involved in two SSHRC-funded research projects looking at poverty and affordable housing in Canada’s North. And his doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Dr. Saul Schwartz, consists of three essays on social assistance. Nick is a frequent blogger and op-ed writer, a steering committee member of the Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) and the PEF Events Coordinator for the Annual Conference of the Canadian Economics Association. Prior to his doctoral studies, Nick was a Parliamentary Intern in Ottawa, and then worked for 10 years as a community social worker with homeless persons in Toronto. Contact him at email@example.com
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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.