Transitional Housing

Transitional housing refers to a supportive – yet temporary – type of accommodation that is meant to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing by offering structure, supervision, support (for addictions and mental health, for instance), life skills, and in some cases, education and training.

Transitional housing is conceptualized as an intermediate step between emergency crisis shelter and permanent housing. It is more long-term, service-intensive and private than emergency shelters, yet remains time-limited to stays of three months to three years. It is meant to provide a safe, supportive environment where residents can overcome trauma, begin to address the issues that led to homelessness or kept them homeless, and begin to rebuild their support network.”

Historically, transitional housing programs were situated within dedicated, building-specific environments, where there was more common space and less private space than might be the case in permanent housing environments. However, as the concept of transitional housing has evolved, new approaches that incorporate scattered-site housing are now being adopted. In such cases, some of the transitional ‘supports’ are considered portable.

Transitional housing, as an approach, has long been seen as part of the housing continuum for people who are homeless, and in particular for sub-populations such as youth. However, in recent years it has become somewhat controversial, particularly in light of the success of Housing First models, which do not require ‘readiness’ for a transition. Eberle Planning and Research identified two key concerns:

“1)  Transitional programs reward those who do well by requiring them to move on; and

 2)  They can only be effective if affordable independent housing is available to move to afterwards”.

An additional concern has to do with the time-limited nature of transitional housing. Most programs in Canada determine a maximum length of stay, which is often quite short (usually one year, but there are some examples in Canada where young people can stay eighteen months or more). Nevertheless, in spite of these criticisms an argument can be made that transitional  or ‘interim’ housing is still necessary in contexts where there isn’t an adequate supply of affordable housing, and also when dealing with sub-populations such as youth. 

Though there have been some broader Canadian studies on the role of transitional housing as part of a range of housing options for people experiencing homelessness, there is surprisingly little evaluative research on the effectiveness of transitional housing programs for youth in Canada. Key exceptions include the recent report Live, Learn, Grow, which surveys the literature on the Foyer model;  a study of  Eva’s Phoenix, a Toronto-based program that has demonstrated positive outcomes, and Peel Youth Village. However, are no longitudinal studies on the long term effectiveness of such programs for youth in Canada, or of their success in helping young people transition to stable housing afterward.

The situation is the same in the United States. In their policy briefing on youth homelessness for the 2010 Opening Doors Homelessness Strategy, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness lamented that while there were an estimated 130 transitional housing programs in the US serving 4,000 young people annually, there was very little data in existence regarding the effectiveness of these programs. There are now a number of research projects on transitional housing underway in the United States, however.

FROMGaetz, S. (2014). Coming of Age - Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada.  Homeless Hub Research Report Series.