Traditionally, policy and programming targeting homelessness has been based on the perception that homelessness was largely an issue among older, single men. However, as the population of those experiencing homelessness diversifies, the development of policy and programming requires the consideration of needs specific to these distinct populations.
Many women who are experiencing homelessness feel that the programs they access are more responsive to their funders than to the unique needs of the individuals using the programs. They are calling for direct involvement of women and transwomen in the creation of policy and programming which will affect them.
Input from women is especially important with the rise of poverty and homelessness among female populations. A literature review found that women were more likely than men to experience poverty. The same review revealed that women earn only 71% of the average male income.
When speaking of unique experiences of homelessness among women, it is important to highlight that some women face additional challenges; these unique experiences can be understood by considering their intersectionality.
Intersectionality is a way of understanding an individual’s unique experience by considering various dimensions of their lives. Due to various trauma or difficulties they may face (such as experiencing domestic violence or living with a disability) or their unique identities (such as being an Indigenous woman, transwoman, or a mother), individuals face discrimination or oppression that is unique. As a result, their needs are unique as well.
Life Experience, Homelessness and Poverty
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that domestic violence is the primary cause of homelessness for women and their families.
The ACLU highlighted that an abused woman will likely be financially dependent and not have access to a stable income. In addition, she will often have a limited social support network as violent partners use social isolation as a method of control.
If a women experiencing domestic violence leaves her partner, she will have little access to resources. One study found that 38% of women experience homelessness immediately after they leave their partners due to violence.
Further evidence of the role of violence was shown in a homelessness study in Ireland. It was found that 92% of homeless women surveyed had experienced some form of violence in their lives. 67% had experienced violence specifically from a partner. Women are four times more likely than men to be victims of violence by their partner.
These women require resources that would allow them to escape violence quickly. They need adequate financial and social support systems to enable a life of independence and to eliminate returning to their abuser out of necessity for housing and other resources. They also require protection from their abuser; a guarantee for their safety.
Living with Disability
It has been found that 15% of individuals with a disability are impoverished; 59% of those individuals are women, while only 55% of individuals experiencing a disability are female. Meanwhile, 55.4% of those living in poverty without a disability are female.
Another study discovered that women with disabilities face food insecurity, housing instability, and inadequate healthcare at higher rates than those without a disability.
In general, there is a higher rate of those living with disabilities (physical or mental) among the homeless population than among the general population. It has also been uncovered that potential landlords are less likely to rent a space to someone with a disability.
When considering policy and programming for women with disabilities who are also experiencing homelessness, these intersections of experience must be considered to tackle discrimination and meet their needs. Examples of unique needs for this population include accessible and affordable mental health services for those living with a mental disorder, and accessible housing units for those experiencing physical disability.
Identity, Homelessness and Poverty
Indigenous Women in Canada
In Canada, Indigenous women are 2.5 times as likely to experience violence compared to non-Indigenous women. This is a by-product of intergenerational trauma at the hands of colonization.
If an individual is perceived to identify as a female, they are already at a higher risk of violence because they are part of a group that faces larger rates of violence. However, if an individual is a female, and Indigenous, they must face both the oppression imposed on the female, and on Indigenous Peoples. Their oppression is compounded by every part of their identity that is marginalized.
Additionally, history of trauma and abuse imposed on Indigenous Peoples, by European settlers in Canada, needs to be explored and acknowledged by policy makers and program facilitators. It needs to be acknowledged that this history has increased risk of homelessness and poverty among Indigenous Peoples in order to facilitate healing.
Also, Indigenous practices may be helpful in the healing of Indigenous women who have experienced homelessness due to violence or other trauma. The Wellesley Institute had found that Aboriginal women who have experienced homelessness request Aboriginal-led services to better support their needs.
Policies and programs must take into consideration the Indigenous culture, the wants and needs of this population, and avoid the continuous impositions of Euro-centric ideals which are only a reminder of the harms against their people rather than a source of improvement in their lives.
Transwomen face discrimination and oppression that is different from those faced by cisgender women. Transwomen who experience homelessness are at a higher risk of violence. This violence was not only found to be a cause of homelessness, but it also occurred at a higher rate throughout their lives and during their experience of homelessness.
Additionally, transwomen face transphobia. They may be rejected from their family, friends, and society in general. In the book, Where Am I Going to Go?, it is reported that family conflict, after an individual comes out, is the most common reason for homelessness among trans youth. Transwomen are found to be at a higher risk of mental disorders than the general population because of the discrimination they face.
Oftentimes, transgender or non-binary individuals are left out of research. When checking off intake forms, staff tend check off which gender they perceive the individual to be, or group them into other, which leaves some individuals underrepresented.
Programming and policy, should address the higher incidence of violence against transwomen, by creating safer environments. Additionally, the research that informs policy and programming, must take into consideration the need for social supports or counselling, which results from societal rejection. To do this, they must include trans populations as a unique group within their research.
Women across the globe are significantly more likely to be single parents than men. While they require more of an income due to extra dependents, they tend to be financially insecure instead. In Canada, a family headed by a lone-female, on average, has only about 50% of the income of a family headed by a lone-male.
It was revealed, by Vlemenickx and Smeeding, that the rates of impoverishment among single mothers in Canada is 2.37 times the rates among single fathers. Connected to this discovery, a study by the Homelessness Partnering Strategy found that about 7% of single parent males in Canada experience homelessness compared to 21% of single parent females.
The Pew Research Centre found that Mothers are more likely to sacrifice work advancement for family matters such as child-rearing. They are more likely than fathers to quit their jobs or take significant time off work for family reasons. In addition, mothers, more often than fathers, report that being a parent has made it difficult to advance in their careers; leaving them at a financial disadvantage.
Policy and programming efforts to increase opportunities within the workplace, equal pay for equal work, and accessible childcare would be ideal to prevent poverty and homelessness among mothers.
Women who experience homelessness and additionally: experience violence, are living with disabilities, or those who are transwomen, mothers or Indigenous, all require different programs and policies to support their needs and breakout of homelessness and poverty.
While we only touched on a small portion of possible identities and obstacles, this overview illustrates the uniqueness of individual needs and experiences. The experience of homelessness is not universal, therefore policy and programming targeted at ending homelessness cannot be universal.
Can you believe it’s already been ten years?
We launched the Homeless Hub back in 2007, after seeing the success of the very first research conference on homelessness in Canada at York University. That event opened up a dialogue about improving access to research on homelessness for researchers, government representatives and the public.
Stephen Gaetz, President and CEO of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness talked about coming to the idea of the Homeless Hub after surveying people at that conference.
“We had a question about a research repository and people wanted more access to research…it’s really hard to get access to homelessness research because it’s not a discipline-based issue,” he said after the conference.
Determined to meet this need for more resources and information, a small team with a passion for research and ending homelessness launched the Homeless Hub website in 2007 with approximately 500 resources.
In the decade that followed, the Homeless Hub has continued to be and remains a place where service providers, researchers, government representatives and the public can access and share research, stories and best practices. The original Homeless Hub logo was a house made of puzzle pieces with blank spaces to indicate gaps in homelessness research mirrors the gap we try to bridge through our work, an idea Stephen sketched on a napkin.
In honour of our tenth anniversary, we are relaunching our logo, which was designed by chance -- our Director of Communications, Steph Vasko, had used the symbol in a mock-up for our new website (to launch in early 2018 -- stay tuned!). Staff loved the simplicity of the design and its ability to represent many things: rooftops, direction, moving forward to preventing and ending homelessness in Canada.
Today, thanks to our followers, contributors and partners, the Homeless Hub hosts nearly 30,000 diverse resources on homelessness -- a massive leap from its initial library of 500.
10 years of research
Over the past 10 years, the COH has published research on a variety of topics, including youth homelessness, Indigenous homelessness, legal and justice issues, and homelessness prevention. These publications have been shared and implemented by communities both nationally and internationally. Below are some of our most influential works, all produced in collaboration with various organizations, academics, communities and people with lived experience of homelessness.
Here are some of the milestones that shaped the COH:
Calling for prevention
We, along with our partners, have been on the forefront of advocating for a conceptual shift from simply managing the problem of homelessness to a focus on prevention, and effective and sustainable exits from homelessness. The COH launched a A Framework for Homelessness Prevention earlier this year, which sets out to lay the groundwork for policy and practice shifts that will reduce the likelihood that individuals will experience homelessness. A youth homelessness prevention framework is currently in the works and will be available in early 2018.
The COH also recognized that to develop collective solutions to homelessness, we need a consistent vocabulary to describe the issue. Released in 2012 and recently updated, the COH, in collaboration with dozens of partners, developed The Canadian Definition of Homelessness. The COH's definition intends to improve understanding, measurement and responses to homelessness in Canada by providing a common language for addressing this complex problem. The definition also recognizes that homelessness is more than a social problem; it's a human rights violation. Since then, we also released the Definition of Youth Homelessness in Canada, the Canadian Definition of Ending Homelessness and just last month, the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada.
The State of Homelessness in Canada reports
In partnership with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, we published three State of Homelessness in Canada reports (2013, 2014, 2016). Within these reports, we estimate the national prevalence of homelessness and look critically at the progress that has been made locally, provincially and nationally over the course of a year. The State of Homelessness reports are widely regarded as the most reputable estimates of homelessness in Canada.
Advocating rights of youth experiencing homelessness
The COH has also been active in inspiring a global shift in how we respond to youth homelessness. In 2010, we published Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth and Victimization in Toronto. This report proved instrumental in its findings, indicating concerns not effectively addressed by the criminal justice and shelter systems. The following year, we released Can I see your ID? The Policing of Youth Homelessness in Toronto which looked at the problematic use of law enforcement as a way to address homelessness in Toronto.
More recently, we conducted the largest ever pan-Canadian study on youth homelessness. With over 1,100 respondents, the National Youth Survey provides an unprecedented understanding of the experiences of homeless youth. The results of the survey lead to the creation of two policy briefs: Child Welfare and Youth Homelessness and Mental Health Care for Homeless Youth, along with extensive media coverage of the issue. This year, the COH continued its work on youth homelessness by publishing Where Am I Going to Go?: Intersectional Approaches to Ending LGBTQ2S Youth Homelessness in Canada and the U.S., a book that addresses the issues LGBTQ2S homeless youth experience.
This is just a brief snapshot of the work we’ve produced in collaboration over the years. We strongly believe that research can, and should, contribute to solutions on homelessness. We look forward to continuing to be the place to access homelessness research and resources and thank you for contributing to the success of the Homeless Hub. Stay up to date by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Does the term “demonstration project” excite and motivate you? It’s okay to say no. I’ll admit that I was inexperienced when it came to demonstration projects before joining the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab (MTS) team. But now I feel pretty confident in saying that we at the MTS Lab are so excited to officially launch the first of our Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) demonstration projects this month. A lot of hard work has brought us to this point; without sounding too cliché, this is when the Lab goes from an “idea” to a system of community-based programs that directly impact the lives of vulnerable young people.
What is a demonstration project?
Let’s back up for a minute – what do I mean by a “demonstration project”? As I insinuated earlier, it is a research term. Demonstration projects are large-scale studies focused on a theory or concept that has already gone through an initial testing process to sort out any logistical and/or core issues. The focus of the demonstration project then is, as the name suggests, to demonstrate the value of the theory or concept by allowing as much relevant information as possible to be collected. This information is then evaluated by researchers and used to assess the effectiveness of the theory or concept.
Demonstration projects are a necessary step in evaluating program implementation and outcomes, which is what the MTS Lab is seeking to do with the HF4Y research trial. Not only do demonstration projects provide researchers with critical data about their theories, they also bridge the gap between theory and practice. For MTS, this means implementing actual programs in community settings. This allows both qualitative and quantitative analysis to take place at the same time, providing a well-rounded knowledge base.
Demonstration projects and pilot projects
Another admission – I used to believe that demonstration projects and pilot projects were basically the same thing. And in non-technical terms, pilot projects are fairly similar to demonstration projects: both are conducted to test theories in real-life scenarios. There are, however, significant differences between the two. Generally, pilot projects are small introductory studies to learn about key factors associated with research topics like time, costs, and size. Before researchers are able to conduct larger and longer studies – such as demonstration projects – they benefit from information gathered during the pilot project phase. Pilot projects contain assessments that are designed by researchers to see if what works in theory actually works in practice, sort of like a test drive for new concepts and approaches.
So, the differences are pretty clear – pilot projects test the waters of new, yet-to-be tested topics (for those of you in Toronto, the King Street pilot is a recent example) while demonstration projects are larger, longer studies of topics that have already gone through an initial screening phase. The evaluation process attached to demonstration projects is another major distinction.
Where does HF4Y fit in?
The demonstration project that we are launching next month in Ottawa – and in Toronto and Hamilton, beginning in 2018 – is designed for the HF4Y intervention. Although there has been other research done in the Housing First realm, this project is focused directly on espousing the value of the HF4Y model outlined in the new Program Model Guide. In each of our HF4Y projects, the evaluation of the impact of services and the overall program is being handled by a team of researchers. This research is a critical for establishing a strong evidence base for HF4Y in Canada which, as you might remember from an earlier post in this blog series, is one of the fundamental goals of the MTS Lab.
The HF4Y intervention is taking place at the agency level; in each community, different youth-serving organizations are partnering to provide housing and services to their youth clients – consistent with the HF4Y intervention model. Primarily, this means following the HF4Y core principles and especially promoting the voices and expertise of the youth involved throughout the process. In practical terms, it means that a number of young people who are either currently experiencing homelessness, or are at serious risk of becoming so, are going to be provided with housing and widespread supports to help them stay housed and achieve other critical outcomes focused on well-being and a healthy transition to adulthood.
This is an exciting time for the MTS Lab. We are not only launching the first of numerous demonstration projects that will yield valuable data for researchers, communities, and policy makers, but we are also on the cusp of taking real, practical steps to aid young people who need it. When all is said and done, we are working hard to ensure that all young people have exactly what we would want for our own children – the tools and supports they need to thrive.
The “THIS is…” blog series is a monthly look into the concepts and ideas at the heart of the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab project. This blog is the third installment of the series; click to read the first and second installments.
How do we know the services and supports we provide to youth experiencing homelessness make their lives better in the long run? Any organization serving youth is prone to assume their interventions are making a difference. But how do we critically measure that impact? Do we open space for young people and their allies to identify the benchmarks on what an improved quality of life means to youth? How can we address evaluation differently, doing “nothing for youth without youth,” decolonizing our approaches, and building accountability into our communities?
A New Outcomes Framework
These questions have become so important at Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth, and we’ve noticed that other youth-serving partners in Toronto have been asking them as well. So Eva’s connected with the research and evaluation team at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness to take a crack at developing a new outcome measurement framework for our work with youth experiencing homelessness. We started the process by reviewing of the literature on:
a) factors related to youth exiting homelessness; and
b) existing outcome frameworks.
We applied the learnings from the literature reviews to guide our exploration at Eva’s through: a focus group with youth residents at Eva’s transitional housing facility; a focus group and visioning session with Eva’s staff team members; and a consultation with Executive Directors of sister youth-serving agencies.
The voices of young people and their allies gave us valuable insights. For instance, when we asked youth what outcomes mattered to them, they certainly addressed financial and housing security. But they also mentioned that having a workplace free of racism and the ability to work out problems with their landlords were important to them too. It reminded us that youth don’t just need jobs and a place to live. They need quality, life-affirming engagement in employment, housing, and community.
Circle of Courage
Along the way, we were inspired by the Circle of Courage model developed by Brendtro, Brokenleg, and Van Bockern (2007). It is a model of positive youth development focused on emotional health and well-being, integrating the wisdom of Indigenous teachings, the knowledge of professionals who’ve worked with youth, and youth development research. The model is a holistic one, incorporating an understanding of the individual in the context of community, and it identifies key domains that enable any young person to thrive: a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.
What We Developed
All of this groundwork allowed us to create our own new outcome measurement framework. You might be surprised by what it includes.
“You Can Only Give What You’ve Got”
Our framework begins with an acknowledgement of organizational capacity to actually achieve outcomes, something we noticed is often a missing in the research and literature, but is a big concern of service providers. We also learned that organizational capacity and focus should be guided by the following principles:
- Positive youth development
- Inclusion and respect for diversity
- Addressing systemic barriers (housing, employment, and education)
- Harm reduction
- Therapeutic alliance (young people and their workers are a team that is only as good as the relationship they have)
“Youth Are Whole People, And They Matter”
Our framework also includes primary and secondary youth development outcomes that fall under the Circle of Courage’s domains of Belonging and Mastery/Independence.
- Connection to the Land and Culture;
- Social Relationships;
- Community Engagement/Belonging;
- Intrapersonal Growth; and
- Wellbeing (Physical and Mental).
- Role Models;
- Leisure Activities;
- Education; and
- Financial Security.
Main outcomes are foundational to secondary outcomes; that is, if the main outcomes are achieved, the secondary outcomes will also emerge. For example, employment skills should be pursued in an empowering manner to build self-esteem.
“Home is So Much More Than a Building”
Finally, our framework incorporates a definition of “stable housing” developed by youth themselves. It includes the following components:
- a mix of housing options;
- financial security to maintain housing;
- preparedness to work with landlords;
- availability of supports;
- safety in one’s housing and belonging in one’s neighbourhood;
- quality housing;
- allowing for multiple moves;
- pet-friendly; and
- chosen by youth.
Everything is Linked
We learned that it’s a cycle: strong organizational capacity will lead to a growing sense of Belonging and Mastery/Independence within young people we work with, which will ultimately lead to stable housing, and all these things reinforce and bolster each other.
What We’ve Learned and How You Can Help
Accurately capturing outcomes for youth that are meaningful, flexible, and youth-driven is complicated, but worth it! Still, we got the sense that even the most comprehensive outcomes framework cannot capture the unique identities and trajectories of young people in all their diversity. That’s why we know that, moving forward, we have to situate ourselves in a learning mindset, refining our outcome frameworks and ultimately listening to youth and their allies to set the agenda for us.
We know we need to put this framework to the test to understand its true effectiveness. If you provide services for youth experiencing homelessness and have struggled with nailing down outcomes, will you consider working in partnership with Eva’s to test this approach?
Circle of Courage image source: https://www.starr.org/training/youth/aboutcircleofcourage
Contact Eva’s: Andrea Gunraj, Director of Communications and Public Education, 416-977-4497 x141 | email@example.com
“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.
Content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License
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.