“As our understandings of how to effectively respond to homelessness evolve, we need to take a closer look at prevention.”
The typology of homelessness prevention is an integrated systems approach addressing the complex interplay of individual, relational, institutional, and structural or societal factors that produce and sustain homelessness. This typology includes five categories intended to organize the various activities that must take place to prevent homelessness.
As shown in the diagram above, each category in the typology has elements of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention, borrowing from the public health model of homelessness prevention.
The typology addresses the legislation, policies, funding, collaborative practices, service delivery, and interventions that must take place to prevent homelessness.
Structural prevention reduces the structural and systemic factors that contribute to housing precarity and social exclusion. The goal is to enhance housing stability and inclusion; it is aimed at individuals, families, communities, or the entire population, but can also involve more targeted strategies aimed at groups that are at higher risk of homelessness, such as seniors.
Examples include: anti-poverty strategies and initiatives, income security, access to appropriate housing, inclusion, safety, wellness, and security of tenure.
Structural prevention provides the legislative and funding backing for the interventions of the public health model to exist and to reach people at different levels of risk of homelessness. Homelessness prevention legislation and policy is key in addressing the drivers of homelessness, setting out responsibilities and goals for governments, providing policy and funding, and articulating how different government departments work together.
Examples include: UK’s Homelessness Act of 2002 and 2005 and the Housing (Wales) Act of 2014 and for specific populations, Australia’s Reconnect program and US Government’s Homeless Veterans Prevention Act.
Systems prevention addresses the role of public systems in prevention homelessness, including: institutional and system failures; unsuccessful transitions from state institutions, such as hospitals, corrections, and child protection; and institutional reintegration support. Systems prevention contains three components:
Fixing policy and procedural barriers – specific policies, rules, and regulations that create barriers for people accessing benefits, entitlements, and supports. Examples include: tight restrictions on the length of time someone can spend in transitional housing, and benefit sanctions resulting in a loss of income or discontinuance of benefits.
Enhancing access to public systems, services, and appropriate supports – income supports, health care, mental health and/or addictions supports, social services, child and family support, and elder care. Examples include: increasing awareness that a benefit exists, eliminating citizenship requirements, responding to mobility and transportation challenges, addressing linguistic or cultural barriers, cost, and difficulties navigating systems.
Reintegration support – 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 include: young people leaving child protection, transitional supports for people leaving corrections, individuals leaving inpatient health and mental health settings.
Early prevention are policies, practices, and strategies targeted at individuals and families at imminent risk of, or who have just become, homeless. The goals are to address the underlying circumstances that increase the risk of homelessness, build resilience, and decrease the possibility for negative outcomes. This is done by delivering information, assessment, and access to necessary supports. Early intervention is designed to have individuals stay in their community so that they can remain engaged with supports (friends, neighbours, etc.) and local institutions (health care, education, etc.).
Early intervention strategies – focuses on providing information, assessment, and access to supports. Examples include: outreach, identification, and engagement for those at risk of homelessness, intake and assessment such as coordinated assessment to identify needs, case management and systems navigation support to access services, place-based supports, and shelter diversion such as Host Homes.
Targeted intervention strategies - are designed to meet the needs of specific priority populations. Examples include: family mediation and reunification (AKA Family First), school-based early intervention programs for youth such as the Reconnect Program, the Geelong Project, and the Upstream Project, intimate partner violence victim support.
Evictions prevention is a type of early intervention and housing stability that keeps individuals and families at imminent risk of eviction in their homes. This begins with landlord-tenant law and legislation, which outlines the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. Furthermore, informing both landlords and tenants of their rights through public awareness can become an important first step in helping tenants avoid the conditions that might result in eviction, as well as make them aware of their rights in the case of wrongful eviction. This is illustrated in the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act in the U.S.
The populations most likely to face eviction are single-parent families, single women, youth, newcomers, individuals with mental health and addictions challenges, seniors, the working poor, welfare recipients, Indigenous Peoples, and people with a history of housing instability.
Examples: rent controls and supplements, housing education, legal and crisis supports.
Housing stability is a type of tertiary prevention involving interventions to help people who experienced homelessness to achieve and maintain housing stability and never experience homelessness again.
The following are key components of a broader housing stability strategy:
Housing supports – help obtaining and retaining housing, rent supplements, support when things go wrong, eviction prevention, and aftercare in the form of continued contact with support workers.
Supports for health and wellbeing – health care, mental health care, trauma-informed care, substance use and addictions (including harm reduction).
Supporting access to income and education – education, employment training, income and employment.
Complementary supports – life skills, advocacy, system navigation, peer support, legal advice and representation.
Enhancing social inclusion – developing social relationships and connections, family reconnection, community engagement, cultural engagement, and meaningful activities.
To prevent homelessness, we must address the issue across multiple levels. It is vital that all orders of government and other sectors, such as justice and corrections, income supports, mental health and health, child protection, and housing, are engaged in homelessness prevention.