Typology of Homelessness Prevention

Typology of Homelessness Prevention

The typology described below outlines corresponding features of the Framework specifying the legislation, policies, collaborative practices, and interventions needed to prevent homelessness in Canada. Prevention requires an integrated systems approach, where different sectors and organizations work in union with one another. Moreover, each of the five categories has implications for primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention. As described above, the classifications are intertwined; homelessness prevention requires an increased level of coordination between all levels of government, systems and institutions, and communities. The typology is as follows:

illustration of the typology
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Structural prevention

Addresses structural and systemic factors that contribute to the risk of housing precarity and social exclusion. The goal is to enhance housing stability, assets, equality, and social inclusion.  

Structural prevention contains three types of prevention: universal prevention, selected prevention, and indicated prevention. In a public health approach, universal prevention are anti-smoking campaigns directed at the whole population. Selected prevention involves addressing individuals at risk of smoking, such as youth. Indicated prevention are directed to individuals who are at risk of smoking because of one or more personal characteristic, such as mental health.

Structural prevention can be applied to homelessness prevention:

Universal – policies, programs, and investments aimed at the entire population. To address various forms of oppression, it is vital that we take on an intersectional, anti-oppressive approach to create equality, inclusivity, and support.

Examples: Poverty reduction strategies, income supports, an adequate supply of affordable housing, violence prevention, anti-discrimination policy, practice, and training, landlord tenant laws and legislation

Selected – directed at people who are at risk due to membership in some group.

Examples: Addressing social, cultural, and economic exclusion of Indigenous Peoples, and communities, systemic violence, implementation of school-based programs to identify young people at risk of homelessness, and supports for individuals facing discrimination

Indicated – aimed at people facing multiple disadvantages due to some individual characteristic or a group of characteristics.

Examples: Supports for interpersonal violence, addictions, and mental health

Systems prevention

Addresses institutional and systems failures and transitions from institutions, and involves implementing policies to enhance access and supports. It contains three components:

Fixing policy and procedural barriers –policies, rules, and regulations that create barriers for people accessing benefits, entitlements, and supports leading to housing instability.

Examples: Restrictions on the amount of time individuals can spend in transitional housing, public housing policies that require people to move when the composition of their family changes, and benefit sanctions resulting in a loss of income or discontinuance of benefits

Enhancing access to public systems, services, and appropriate supports – for benefits, services, and supports, such as income supports, health care, mental health and/or addictions supports, social services, child and family support, and elder care that are difficult to access.

Examples: Awareness that a benefit or support exists, mobility and transportation challenges, linguistic or cultural barriers, cost, discrimination, and citizenship requirements

Reintegration support – prevention involves ensuring that people who are ‘discharged’ from institutional care have planning support prior to release, and immediate access to housing, and necessary supports to enhance housing stability upon release.

Examples:  Young people leaving child protection, transitional supports for people leaving corrections, and individuals leaving inpatient health and mental health settings

Early Intervention

Policies and practices to support individuals and families at imminent risk of homelessness or who have recently become homeless. The goal is to respond early to the underlying circumstances that increase the chance of homelessness, improve resilience, and lessen possible negative outcomes. Early intervention strategies are designed to keep people in nearby neighbourhoods so that they are able to maintain their social supports and remain connected to systems and programs:

Early intervention strategies – focuses on providing information, assessment, and access to supports

Examples: Outreach, identification, and engagement to inform and educate those at risk of homelessness, intake and assessment tools such as Coordinated Assessment to identify needs, case management, and systems navigation support, shelter diversion supports such as Host Homes, and place-based supports for helping people stay in their communities

Targeted early intervention strategies – early intervention strategies designed to meet the needs of specific priority populations

Examples: Family mediation and reunification, known as ‘Family First’, school-based early intervention programs aimed at youth, such as the Reconnect Program, the Geelong Project, and the Upstream Project, intimate partner violence victim support, such as the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project

Evictions Prevention

A form of early intervention and housing stability with programs and strategies designed to keep individuals and families at imminent risk of eviction in their homes. Those most likely to face eviction are single parent families, single women, youth, newcomers, people with mental health and addictions issues, seniors, working poor, welfare recipients, Indigenous Peoples, and people with a history of housing instability.

In the ‘Analysis of Evictions under the Tenant Protection Act in the City of Toronto’, Lapointe reported that those in-rent arrears, a common cause of eviction from social housing, can be supported through: a repayment plan with the landlord, an advocate to negotiate with the landlord, a better understanding of the eviction process, and a loan for arrears.

Examples: rent controls and supplements, housing education, landlord/tenant mediation, and crisis supports

Housing Stability

Strategies and interventions aimed at reducing the risk of becoming homeless or for those who have been successfully housed, to ensure they never experience homelessness again. Housing First is a key example of tertiary prevention because housing, combined with necessary and appropriate supports, should reduce the risk of people becoming homeless again. Another example of tertiary prevention is the Foyer model, a youth-based approach to accommodation and support.

Below is a summary of the key components of a broader housing stability strategy that clients should have access to:

Housing supports –help obtaining and retaining housing, rent supplements, support when things go wrong, evictions prevention and aftercare, continued contact with support workers

Supports for health and wellbeing – health care, mental health care, trauma-informed care, and substance use and addictions, for instance, harm reduction

Supporting access to income and education – education, employment and training, income, and employment

Complementary Supports – life supports, advocacy, system navigation, peer support, legal advice and representation

Enhancing social inclusion – developing social relationships and connections, family reconnection, community engagement, cultural engagement, meaningful activities

Human Rights Approach

It is important to consider homelessness and prevention from a rights-based perspective. Many national governments, including Canada, are signatories to international treaties and covenants that provide a basis for the claim that access to housing are human rights. For example, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) declares that all signatory states must “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions”. Further, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Canada is a signatory, states: “Indigenous Peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health, and social security”.

This means that all people are rights holders. Incorporating a human rights perspective creates an obligation to target systemic causes of homelessness and not simply react after things go wrong. A rights-based approach to homelessness prevention means changing the way policy decisions and investments are made and ensures that a policy and funding framework is in place to hold all orders of government responsible for addressing their role in preventing people from becoming homeless, including health, child protection, justice, and others.

Prevention Legislation

Government legislation and policy can play a role in:

  1. Identifying and addressing the drivers of homelessness
  2. Setting out responsibilities, goals, and objectives
  3. Providing policy and funding to support local communities
  4. Articulating how different government departments work together towards that end

Homelessness prevention legislation and policy is happening in various parts of the world. An example of this is the UK’s Homelessness Act of 2002 and further legislation in 2005, which instructed that local authorities have a duty to develop homelessness prevention strategies and provide quick options for individuals at risk of homelessness. Similarly, the Housing (Wales) Act of 2014 is an extensive rights-based approach to homelessness prevention. It states that local and public authorities, non-profit and voluntary organizations, and other providers have a “duty to help to prevent an applicant from becoming homeless”, and instructs them to inform, assist and navigate supports and services. Finland’s recent Action Plan for Preventing Homelessness ensures that anyone who interacts with the public service system has secure housing. Other examples include Ireland, the U.S. and Washington State.