Research Matters Blog
“My relationship with Mack … is the best I ever had … having my dog around I find it more comforting than having my girlfriend around … 'cause he always knows when I’m feeling bad ... I don’t always have to sit around explaining to him what I mean cause he already seems to know … having Mack is easy 'cause I can talk about my problems to him and he doesn’t judge me. 1” –Terence-
This quote is a familiar refrain in the world of Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO). Terence, a street-involved youth, describes his relationship with his dog as “unconditional love.” This love is the reason many of us have pets, and for those experiencing homelessness, street-involved and/or marginally housed, pets can be their lifeline.
When talking about homelessness, it’s important to remember that homelessness is more than a lack of accessible and secure shelter; it is inadequate income, limited access to health care and social service supports, and social exclusion. Those experiencing homelessness have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of illness across a wide spectrum of disease.2 This is often related to the social determinants of health, including preventable illness from lack of basic health care, including common vaccines, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and other addictions.3
CVO is a unique veterinary-based organization that provides pro-bono health services to both pets and their owners. Our mandate is to improve the health and welfare of both animals and people, to create multilateral collaborations with community organizations, to contribute to the scientific knowledge base on social issues involving animals, and to develop program models that can be reproduced in other communities.
The issues of pets while experiencing homelessness
In Canada, up to 19% of those experiencing homelessness own pets.4 The benefits of pet ownership include increased social, emotional and physical health. For example, pet ownership can also lower the prevalence of depression. 5,6 Pets also may reduce risk behaviour, drug and alcohol use, and avoidance of incarceration.1
On the other hand, this strong human-animal bond can lead homeless or vulnerably-housed clients to place their animal’s needs ahead of their own. 1,7 Risks associated with pet ownership include difficulty in finding stable pet-friendly housing or accessing shelters, ability to work or go to school (without a place or person to leave their pet), and the financial strain of feeding and providing health care for a pet.1,5
CVO’s mission is to create healthy communities through collaboration and social innovation for vulnerable people and their pets. We lead through service and inspire social change in community health.
We serve communities in Halifax, various places in Ontario (Ottawa, Toronto, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener- Waterloo, and York region), Winnipeg and Vancouver. Veterinary care is combined with human health and welfare service provision at each clinic.
Our programs include:
1. Veterinary Care Program
The Veterinary Care program provides free preventative veterinary health clinics for animals of those experiencing homelessness, street-involved and/or marginally housed. Between April 2016 and March 2017, the Veterinary Care Clinics served 566 clients, provided wellness examinations for 290 dogs and 422 cats, and provided spay or neuter for 295 animals.
Pets are examined, vaccinated for rabies and other infectious diseases, treated for internal and external parasites, and implanted with a microchip. Free spay/neuter surgeries (for dogs and cats seen at the clinics) are also offered in several communities. The veterinary team educates and offers advice to owners on their pet’s nutrition, dental care, behaviour, and the benefits of spay / neuter. In Vancouver, Community Veterinary Outreach partners with Paws for Hope Animal Foundation to provide the veterinary care.
The clients are accepted on a referral basis from community partnerships that we have developed, including area shelters, municipal public health, community health and youth centres, and mental health organizations.
2. One Health Program
“One Health” is a term used to describe the collaboration between multiple health disciplines to achieve optimal health for humans, animals and the environment.
CVO’s innovative One Health program combines veterinary teams with social services and human healthcare providers. This improves the health, welfare, and social service delivery for both humans and animals.
Each of our veterinary clinics has at least one human health service offered, including smoking harms reduction, vaccination (including influenza), primary health care needs, dental care access, and harm reduction including naloxone kit provision and training. Our partners in the community for One Health include the various public health units in Ottawa, Toronto and Golden Triangle, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Somerset West Community Health Centre team in Ottawa, UBC School of Nursing and Pharmacy, the University of Manitoba School of dental hygiene, the Capital Dental Hygiene team in Ottawa, and Pharmasave Respect Rx pharmacy team, to name a few.
As we expand into more regions, our One Health partnerships are growing. Over time, we hope to offer more services involving support for healthy living and nutrition, addiction, and mental health.
We believe that all people and animals are entitled to a high standard of care, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Together with human health partners, our aim is to provide access to quality services to improve the overall health and welfare of animals, humans, and the community at large.
Find out more at: vetoutreach.org
To volunteer, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lem M, Coe JB, Haley DB, et al. Effects of Companion Animal Ownership among Canadian Street-involved Youth: A Qualitative Analysis. J Sociol Soc Welfare 2013;40(4):285-304.
- Hwang S, Wilkens R, Tjepkema M et al. Mortality among residents of shelters, rooming houses, and hotels in Canada: 11 year follow-up study, BMJ 2009;339:b4036.
- Young S, Dosani N, Whisler A, et al. Influenza vaccination rates among homeless adults with mental illness in Toronto. J Prim Care Community Health 2015;6(3):211-214.
- Stephen Hwang (2011) & Bill O’Grady (2012), St Michael’s Hospital, University of Guelph.
- Lem, M, Coe, J, Haley D, et al. The protective association between pet ownership and depression among street-involved youth: A cross-sectional study. Anthrozoös, 2016;29(1):123-136.
- Rhoades, H, Winetrobe, H, Rice E. Pet ownership among homeless youth: Associations with mental health, service utilization and housing status. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 2015; 46(2):237-44.
- Williams DL and Hogg S. The health and welfare of dogs belonging to homeless people. Pet Behaviour Science 2016;1:23-30.
Evelyn Peters and Julia Christensen recently wrote an edited book on homelessness among Indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Excluding the Introduction and Conclusion, more than half of the chapters are either authored or co-authored by an Indigenous person. A useful contribution to researchers, students, consultants and policymakers in all three countries, it should be required reading for anyone wanting to learn more about homelessness experienced by Indigenous peoples.
Here are 10 things to know about this book.
- The book contains lots of useful information. In Chapter 1, Christensen—citing research done previously by Yale Belanger, Olu Awosoga and Gabrielle Weasel Head—notes that on any given night in Canada, approximately 7% of Canada’s urban Indigenous population is homeless, compared to fewer than 1% for Canada’s total population. Chapter 8, authored by Yale Belanger and Gabrielle Lindstrom, includes a succinct, three-page section titled “Understanding Indigenous Homelessness” that provides a useful history of the Canadian context. And in Chapter 9—co-authored by Rebecca Schiff, Alina Turner and Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff—we learn that many Indigenous people in Canada migrate from urban to rural areas (as well as between rural areas). By contrast, it is commonly believed that Indigenous migration in Canada happens only from rural to urban areas.
- The book includes contributions from three countries with similar social welfare systems. The book looks at Canada, Australia and New Zealand, allowing readers in each respective country to learn from other countries’ experiences and perspectives. What’s more, many researchers will appreciate the opportunity to compare the experiences of these particular countries because all three are considered “liberal welfare states.” That means their social welfare systems are considered stingier than those of many other OECD countries—they have relatively low rates of taxation, relatively low levels of public social spending (including spending on housing for low-income households) and relatively high levels of income inequality (the United States, while not a focus of this book, is also considered a liberal welfare state). At the other extreme of the spectrum are social democratic welfare states (e.g. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden); they’re known for having relatively generous social welfare systems—relatively high tax rates, relatively high levels of public social spending (including spending on housing for low-income households) and relatively low levels of income inequality.
- The book’s account suggests that the history of Indigenous peoples in all three countries is similar. As Dr. Peters notes in the book’s Conclusion: “All of the [book’s] authors situate their analysis within the ongoing legacy of Western colonialisms that dispossessed people of their lands, waters and resources, attempted to destroy Indigenous cultures, and resulted in intergenerational individual and collective trauma…Indigenous homelessness cannot be understood without recognition of this legacy” (p. 390).
- One of the book’s chapters which I found very empirically-grounded was Chapter 4 which makes the case that police often relocate Indigenous peoples from affluent areas of Edmonton to poor areas of the city. Chapter 4, written by Joshua Freistadt,is a condensed version of the author’s PhD thesis, which can be downloaded here and which is now available in book format here. (I suspect that people involved with the Homeless Charter of Rights project in Calgary will find this chapter especially interesting.)
- Chapter 13, by Kelly Greenop and Paul Memmott, calls for the need to rethink the concept of crowding for Indigenous peoples. Indeed, the authors suggest that, rather than think of crowding in simple mathematical terms (e.g., number of rooms per person, square footage per person), we should consider asking Indigenous people to personally define how crowded they actually feel. To make this point, the authors draw on previous research done by Robert Gifford. The authors also note that, for some Indigenous people, too few people in a house can be a problem. (This information is useful to the Calgary Homeless Foundation as we continue to plan and design culturally appropriate housing with and for Indigenous peoples. In 2016, for example, we began surveying tenants about their own perception of the quality of their housing unit.)
- I find the book pays insufficient attention to each country’s social welfare system—including the macroeconomic factors that shape it. In fact, even though all three countries are classified as being in the same family of social welfare systems (as discussed in point #1 above) the editors make no explicit mention of this. Do the editors not believe the amount of public social spending (as a percent of GDP) in each country can have a major impact on Indigenous homelessness? What about social housing stock in each country (as a percentage of total stock)? How about the amount of money each country provides to people—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—receiving social assistance?
- The book could have benefited from a discussion of advocacy approaches in each country. Canada has gone through an interesting evolution of advocacy approaches to homelessness; I’ve previously discussed them here. What have advocacy campaigns looked like in Australia and New Zealand? Do advocates in those countries seek to “end homelessness?” To what extent have Indigenous and non-Indigenous advocates worked collaboratively in each country to end homelessness? I would have liked to have seen these questions addressed.
- The book could have benefited from some quantitative analysis. My colleague and friend, Michael Shapcott, once said: “Qualitative research engages the heart. Quantitative research engages the mind.” With that said, I would have liked to have seen a bit more quantitative research in this book. For example, in 2014, Jalene Tayler Anderson and Damian Collins authored this journal article; it looks at the prevalence and causes of urban homelessness among Indigenous peoples in all three countries considered in this book. A modified version of that article would have therefore made for an excellent contribution.
- Chapter 1, which focuses on the Canadian context, ought to have made at least passing reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Indeed, Canada’s federal government hascommitted to “fully” implementing all 94 of the final report’s Calls to Action. These “calls to action” include calls pertaining to child welfare, health, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (all of which have important ramifications for homelessness experienced by Indigenous peoples).
- The book lacks content from the United States (likely because very little has been written about homelessness among Native Americans). The book includes nine chapters of Canadian content, five of Australian content, three from New Zealand and none from the United States. Trouble is, there does seem to be a shortage of research on homelessness among Indigenous peoples in the United States (one of the only recent exceptions I’m aware of is this report). The editors could have taken this issue head on by discussing this important research gap in the book’s preface (especially since the United States is also one of the so-called liberal welfare states discussed above).
In Sum. The publication of this book is a remarkable accomplishment. I consider it a ‘must read’ for anybody interested in understanding what contributes to, and what can end, homelessness among Indigenous peoples. You can order a copy of the book here.
The author wishes to thank the following individuals for invaluable assistance with this book review: Vicki Ballance, Cynthia Bird, Sally Carraher, Janice Chan, Julia Christensen, Joshua Freistadt, Kahente Horn-Miller, Evelyn Peters, Robert Regnier, Rebecca Schiff, Michael Shapcott, Joel Sinclair, Ken Swift and Billie Thurston. Any errors lie with the present author.
 Building on the work of Richard Titmuss, the early work on categorizing OECD countries into different categories like this was done by Gøsta Esping-Andersen. Interestingly, Esping-Andersen’s work has been criticized for providing insufficient attention to Indigenous peoples (see chapter 3 in this book).
 To be fair, Christensen does reference this article in the book’s Introduction.
You can view a PDF version of this blog post here: Book review – Indigenous Homelessness
This blog post has been republished with permission from the Calgary Homeless Foundation website.
Safe At Home was written by the Dream Team: a peer based nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy, education, and research in the areas of supportive housing, mental health, discrimination, and stigma. This study investigates “Housing Unit Takeovers,” or HUTs: situations in which vulnerable tenants are forced to accommodate unwanted guests in their homes. During HUTs, vulnerable tenants allow people into their homes to fulfill unmet social, economic, and personal needs. In the process, the tenant is threatened physically, financially, or psychologically. People of all genders, races, and age groups are vulnerable to HUTs (Butera, Crime Prevention Ottawa, 2013). Similarly, people of all races, genders and age groups perpetrate takeovers. Such housing predators tend to be manipulative family members or drug dealers. Often, these predators exploit the tenant’s vulnerabilities, such as addiction, isolation, disability, or poor health. The ultimate outcome is that the targeted tenant’s housing is jeopardized while they are made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe in their own homes. In some cases, HUTs can leave the targeted tenant homeless (Dream Team, 2017).
Some Dream Team members have lived in supportive and social housing where they experienced HUTs themselves. Having survived a predator’s use of drugs and money, and sometimes threat of physical harm, to infiltrate and eventually take over their households, these Dream Team members are uniquely situated to give voice to the lived realities of HUTs in Toronto today. These voices and the voices of other people with lived experience of HUTs, were central to the research carried out in the Safe At Home Project.
Supported by a grant from the City of Toronto, the Dream Team began work on the Safe At Home project in April 2016, using a community-based participatory research model. We began conceptualizing our project using some of the key terms and ideas put forward by Crime Prevention Ottawa (CPO 2013), and acknowledge their ongoing advisory support during the research process. While we concentrated on people in social and supportive housing by the terminal date of the project in June 2017, our research had intersected with regular market and non-supportive housing, and it now provides a fairly good idea of the extent to which HUTs occur in different parts of the GTA. It is also important to note that during our consultations and public roundtables, we found out that almost all housing providers know about HUTS and that most governing bodies were starting to look at them. An interesting fact is that in the absence of a cogent shared definition or measuring technique, no one actually knows how many HUTS happen, though we know they happen in all parts of the GTA and in all types of housing.
Thankfully then, HUTs seem to be getting more attention but have been underexplored in scholarly research and the mainstream media. This means that the narratives surrounding HUTs are very much underdeveloped. We were able to access two prior types of coverage. The first was mostly in the press in the UK, where HUTs were known as “cuckooing,” in reference to the cuckoo bird’s tendency to steal other birds’ nests, and the second was the important research carried out by Crime Prevention Ottawa (Butera, 2013). Although these sources acknowledge systemic issues that contribute to HUTs, the main thrust of their narratives is that the first place we must look to prevent takeovers is the tenants’ “inability” to protect themselves from housing predators. For example, Butera (2013) introduces the notion of a “complicit victim,” proposing that tenants who endure HUTs at the hands of their drug dealers are, to some degree, responsible for those takeovers by virtue of the choice they made to let people into their home. In this compelling narrative, as we understand it, the tenant is at the center of the problem and the solutions.
While The Dream Team Safe At Home Project recognizes the practical need to identify the tenant’s role and potentially protective responses as a part of the problem, our study revisits these assertions very critically. Safe At Home recognizes that HUTs are underpinned by a far more complex system of players. Namely, tenants, housing providers, law enforcement officials, lawmakers, policy designers and many others are all individual parts of a broken system that facilitates HUTs. We offer an alternative “axis of intervention” where HUTs are the dependent variable – at the center of the debates – and tenants, along with police, service providers and so on, all play roles as intervening variables that contribute to make HUTs possible.
We cannot stress strongly enough that focusing solely on tenant-based solutions is a distraction. Even though a tenant might make a bad decision to let a predator into their lives, we found that many tenants do not even recognize how some of their characteristics—including the aforementioned issues of addiction, isolation, and poor health—make them more vulnerable to HUTs. We question what the word responsibility means in the context of people who face a number of challenges that are not common outside of social and supportive housing, and from whose perspectives, the right kinds of supports do not exist.
Many tenant respondents told us in surveys and interviews that they had never even thought of their experiences as takeovers, though, after participating in the research and seen in a new light, they felt they had been in takeovers before. While many saw the obvious connection between their decisions and the takeovers they had endured, many others felt they had literally had no choices in the past, wondered what choices they had in the present. These individuals overwhelmingly expressed that they lacked the supports or were not aware of the resources that might have helped them avoid or escape a housing predator. Moreover, we have argued that by focusing on the role tenants play in facilitating predators’ behaviour, existing press coverage and research has yet to delve deeply into the varied and very problematic systemic variables that contribute to HUTs, such as decaying infrastructure, a lack of effective social supports, or legal definitions to support enforcement against predators.
By exploring the patterns and trends that tend to characterize HUTs in Toronto, Safe At Home is part of the foundation for forthcoming strategies that will reduce and prevent them. Amongst a number of important findings, in our final report, and our presentation at CAEH 2017, we discuss tenant and law enforcement perceptions of barriers to HUT interventions, key behavioural and social indicators of HUTS and potential HUTs, strategies for preventing and intervening in HUTs, a potentially useful HUT housing prevention program, and the immediate need for the formation of an interagency council devoted to dealing with HUTs.
Our findings are based on the results of 56 resident surveys, 24 resident interviews, 146 non-resident surveys, 2 staff interviews, and focus group discussions. We also conducted two roundtable discussions and an open dialogue through the City of Toronto’s Specialized Interdivisional Enhanced Response (SPIDER) program. Most importantly, however, Safe At Home prioritizes the voices of those who have lived through HUTs themselves. Thus, the findings, themes, analyses, and recommendations made here aim to bridge the classic divides between systemic actors like law enforcement officials and institutional housing providers on the one hand, and vulnerable individuals with lived experiences in these settings on the other.
This research is part of this year's National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For program details, see conference.caeh.ca.
In September 2014, the Aboriginal Homelessness Advisory Board (AHAB) and the Provincial Métis Housing Corporation (PMHC) commissioned a project to better understand Indigenous homelessness in Saskatchewan.
The objective of this project was to provide a better understanding of Indigenous homelessness in Saskatchewan and identify the gaps in services for homeless individuals and their families.
Specifically, the project aims to identify:
- What agencies, service organizations, and other resources exist;
- Where they are located;
- The types of resources for homelessness they provide;
- What data currently exists to help determine the size and make‐up of homeless populations; and
- Where gaps in programming exist.
Eleven communities across Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba (Flin Flon) were visited (Figure 1).
This project took a regional approach to scanning the province to provide a picture of homelessness for Saskatchewan. It was found that the different areas of the province are all unique, and strategies to combat homelessness must be tailored to the local context. “One-size-fits-all” approaches are likely to be less effective.
There were several themes that emerged through the process.
1. Saskatchewan is filled with hardworking service providers.
2. Definitions of homelessness can be a barrier to addressing real needs in communities.
3. An adequate supply of safe housing is universally reported as a gap.
4. More understanding of culturally appropriate housing is needed.
5. Cultural competence and Indigenous-run organizations are important.
6. Mental health and addictions are key factors in homelessness.
7. Determining the extent of homeless populations is a challenge in many parts of the province.
9. Housing First may require tailored approaches in rural and remote areas.
10. The geography of Saskatchewan can be a factor in homelessness.
11. More research is needed to understand patterns of mobility.
12. Jurisdictional issues are a factor in homelessness.
13. There is a gap in emergency shelters specifically for men.
14. There is a gap in transitional housing.
15. There is a gap in in housing for single people.
Housing and Healing First
One of the most prominent of the themes that stood out is the topic of mental health and addictions. Service providers pointed to the fact that poor mental health and addictions (and low levels of wellness in general) can be linked to a host of other factors that also influence homelessness. These include a lack of housing, housing in poor condition, and overcrowded housing; intergenerational trauma; and the cycle of poverty.
In terms of housing, mental health, addictions, and wellness in general, an example of policy to consider for the HPS Non-Designated funding stream would be to support initiatives that promote a “housing and healing first” model, as shown here:
The Saskatchewan Non-Designated Aboriginal Homelessness funding stream supports initiatives that provide both housing and wellness, with the goal of ensuring housing solutions work in tandem with culturally relevant healing and wellness supports.
The term “wellness” is used here because it can represent a variety of healing supports, including mental health and addictions.
Related areas of funding support could include:
- Initiatives that partner housing development with service providers, including wellness agencies that are able to access external sources of funding (i.e. collaborations with Ministries such as Social Services or Justice); and
- Initiatives that support capacity-building for wellness supports in communities (such as ensuring agencies and trained workers exist that can partner and provide culturally relevant wellness supports)
Governance to Support “Housing and Healing First” models: Aboriginal Homelessness Advisory Board
In light of the goals for combining housing and wellness supports, shown above, the report recommended that AHAB consider seeking out board members with service provision and wellness experience, in addition to those with expertise in housing development.
 PMHC. AHAB. March 2015. Environmental Scan: Aboriginal Homelessness in Saskatchewan, Off-Reserve and Outside Saskatoon and Regina. Prairie Wild Consulting. http://pmhc.ca/resources/
This research is part of this year's National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For program details, see conference.caeh.ca.
This blog is based on a revised version of the project summary found in the full report - PMHC. AHAB. March 2015. Environmental Scan: Aboriginal Homelessness in Saskatchewan, Off-Reserve and Outside Saskatoon and Regina. Prairie Wild Consulting. http://pmhc.ca/resources/
The field of behavioral economics offers a unique perspective into the phenomenon of homelessness – one that focuses on individual behavior and unites economic, social, and psychological factors in a way that previous models have not. This approach advocates a conception of homelessness as the result of a series of conscious choices, and recommends a focus on these choices as opportunities for intervention. It examines how and why individuals are forced to make choices that may result in homelessness and explores how upstream interventions in housing instability, and curated and critically timed choice sets can preserve housing and prevent the tipping point into homelessness, especially for high risk populations such as young adults with children.
Historically, homelessness prevention has focused on identifying the cause of homelessness, and attacking that cause. This has led to effective interventions, but not universally applicable. A theorist who believes homelessness is a purely economic problem might try to raise income for at-risk people through job training, benefits counseling, and direct financial assistance. Similarly, a researcher who feels that homelessness is a mental health issues, not an economic one, would focus on counseling and treatment. Either approach varies in efficacy, depending on the applicability of the intervention. In either circumstance, the individual or family must be in acute crisis for a number of months to allow time for the intervention, which is expensive and psychologically damaging.
Instead of focusing on a “root cause” model, let’s look closely at the mechanism by which people become homeless, and attempt a better approach for more tactical interventions. Rather than think of the reasons for homelessness, what if we study the moment when people within a certain cohort “choose” to be homeless and find commonalities among an array of individuals? It is then possible to leverage social psychology and behavioral economics to engineer choice sets and environments in which people are nudged toward decisions that will not result in homelessness.
This concept of “choice” in homelessness is often overlooked. We tend to think of homelessness as the inevitable result of broad social trends. Sometimes, this is the case. Large-scale economic depression does correlate strongly with increases in homelessness. But analysis at this level can only tell us so much. Homelessness at the micro-scale is the result of hundreds of choices, often between options that are equally unappealing. As economic challenges grow, so does the difficulty of the decision-making, and the consequences of each choice. For some families, it could mean choosing to purchase school supplies instead of paying rent. It could mean paying only half the rent in another month so holiday gifts can be purchased. These decisions are fraught with emotion, and can yield life-altering results. As economic conditions tighten, these seemingly small decision points and cash-flow constrictions move out of the realm of merely stressful, and quickly evolve into housing crises.
Many homeless or marginally housed (living doubled up with others) people could not afford housing based on 100% of their income, so the resulting homelessness is based on the lack of economic and social resources (O’Flaherty, 2006). For people living with extremely low incomes, choices related to housing may be between utilizing a high proportion of their income on poor quality housing, or increasing expenditures on other fixed costs while sacrificing housing altogether (Quigley, Raphael & Smolensky, 2001). As severely impoverished people face a scarcity of resources, opportunity costs, defined as, “those costs associated with foregoing the next most attractive course of action” (Friedman and Hetcher, 1988, p. 202), and homelessness may be the most attractive option. Alternative models of explanation have emerged, taking into consideration the paradox of choices homeless and at-risk people must make when presented with challenging economic and social realities (Lovell & Cohn, 1998).
Assuming that individuals are generally rational actors, it is nearly impossible to imagine a person choosing to become homeless. A rational actor would never subject herself, or family, to such a string of negative externalities if another option existed. As a result, much of the literature surrounding homelessness has focused on one of two things: the societal and structural forces that act upon individuals and force them into homelessness (the “root cause” theorists) or the individual psychological factors that would cause a person to be homeless.
But there is a third conception, one that treats homelessness as the result of a series of choices made by humans acting in what they believe to be their best interests. Often these choices are made under severe duress, with incomplete information, or without advance knowledge of potential consequences, but they are choices nonetheless. If we view homelessness through this lens, we can start to construct a conceptual framework for a different type of intervention – one based on influencing housing-unstable individuals at critical moments when they are making choices that result in homelessness. Using this framework, we can place control back into the hands of those individuals and employ relatively inexpensive intervention techniques to guide people away from homelessness.
People are generally risk-averse and conservative, and frequently act to prevent the loss of something that is highly valued such as a home. It follows that well-grounded and well-run homeless prevention activities should successfully prevent people from reaching a position where they must make the choice between literal homelessness and some other unstable or untenable housing situation. The positive outcomes from HELP USA’s past 13 years as a HomeBase homeless prevention provider clearly illustrate the impact and success of homeless prevention services. HELP USA’s HomeBase programs enrolled over 10,000 families in fiscal years 2014-2016. Messeri, O’Flaherty & Goodman’s (2011) research on HomeBase finds that for every 100 families enrolled, shelter entry falls 10 to 20%. HomeBase programs yield significant cost savings to the City of New York. It costs approximately $38,000 per year to house a family in a NYC shelter, and the average length of stay is 13 months, which equates to an average cost of $41,666 for each family in shelter. HELP’s homeless prevention programs have prevented thousands of families from homelessness. Net cost savings for the prevention of literal homelessness ranges from the very conservative $3.6 million to a liberal estimate of $31 million.
This research is part of this year's National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For program details, see conference.caeh.ca.
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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.