March 26, 2013
Calgary has a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. And the Calgary Homeless Foundation has set very aggressive targets and benchmarks to reframe how our city thinks about and responds to homelessness. As a community, we have decided that it is completely inappropriate for a city of opportunity, like Calgary, to ignore the fact that we have 3,500 homeless men, women and children on our streets and in emergency shelters.
We have created 40 new programs in the last five years to move people from homelessness into housing with supports. Finding housing in our city is a key challenge – but just as critical is ensuring people have supports around them whenever they need them to keep that housing. The support piece is called case management. When working with homeless people, case management has to meet the needs of people with very complex lives and difficult histories. Case management should be person-centred, and delivered by a team of people from varying backgrounds. Open, honest communication and a non-judgemental approach are the keys to success as is ensuring people have an equal role in making decisions.
When case management is done well and people are engaged in the process, it changes lives. So far we have housed and supported 4,500 people in our housing and case management programs. Eighty to ninety percent remain in housing. These individuals are using jails and emergency rooms 54-85% less than when they were homeless and most importantly they are safe, secure and supported. We see dramatic results that cost taxpayers significantly less than ignoring the issue. We know that it can cost upwards of $100,000 per person per year to use emergency shelters, and public systems when they are homeless. Our most expensive case management program is $36,000 per person, per year. Most are around $20,000. Each person in a case management program plays an active part in paying rent and accessing supports and many move into volunteer roles, education or employment.
Case management along with safe, affordable housing is a critical part of the success of our 10 Year Plan. We are well on our way to creating a diverse and adaptable system of care that can meet and respond to this complex issue. Our ending homelessness work in Calgary is helping to build a strong community where all Calgarians can take advantage of the great things our city of opportunity has to offer.
Katrina Milaney is the Acting Vice President of Strategy for the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Katrina has been a researcher for several years engaged in numerous collaborative projects that uncover the root causes of social issues including poverty and homelessness. She has a Master’s degree in Community Health Sciences and is currently pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies.
January 31, 2013
A friend of mine, who teaches at York University, recently lamented the fact that “The students in my class, they don’t read newspapers any more”. Well, I still like to read newspapers myself, but that's not the only way I like to get information. I follow twitter, I’m on Facebook, I use Youtube for everything from watching music videos, to seeing web-based comedy, to figuring out how to do a home repair. People consume information and, perhaps more importantly, learn new things in all kinds of ways, many of them mediated through technology.
You see, the world has changed, and as a researcher and an educator focused on the issue of homelessness, I am very interested in figuring out how to help the public – as well as decision-makers in government and the community – understand that in responding to homelessness, we can do things differently, and that we must. Through our work at the Homeless Hub, we recognize that it just isn’t enough to just push out academic papers that nobody wants to read; that if we really want people to engage research, we need to think differently about how people might want to consume information, and do things differently.
This is why I was blown away when I saw the NFB’s Here At Home interactive website and video series. This site, and the many videos contained within it, is perhaps one of the richest sources of information on homelessness – and how to address it – that I have seen. Right from the opening sequence, which draws you in to the site, to the important facts and figures relating to the five research sites, to the huge number of short video subjects, this is a site that really allows you to learn about and understand homelessness. The short videos profiling those who were once homeless and who have since been housed through the project, humanizes the subject by helping us understand their lives and the fact that, well, they aren’t really that different from you and me. They want to be safe, to be warm, to have dignity, to be housed. Check out the video of Simon from Montreal, and you will see what I mean.
The videos chronicling the experiences of caseworkers and landlords are equally enlightening. It is fantastic to learn from these videos that there are landlords all over the country who are willing to support Housing First and provide homes for people who are homeless. Many of these landlords like Jim the Housing Agent in Toronto seem to get much from their involvement, besides rent. They get a strong sense of fulfillment and an opportunity to participate in contributing to solutions to a seemingly intractable problem.
The videos here are interesting and well produced. They are also short and easy to consume, which is perfect for social media. So, one can visit the site and browse through them. One can also post them on Facebook (at under five minutes, they are perfect), Tweet them. If you are a teacher or professor, these are a great resource for your students. The videos can be used in community meetings, or to show your friends or family. Content like this is really the future of communication and of learning, and the partnership between the NFB and the At Home / Chez Soi project.
So why does any of this matter? For far too long we have dealt with homelessness by warehousing people in emergency shelters or worse still, throwing them in jail. After years of working with many others to address homelessness in Canada, I just feel that things need to change. And change in a big way. But things won’t change at all if people - and I’m talking about politicians, the news media and most importantly the general public – continue to think that everything is OK, or minimally, that the current system is the best we can offer. You know, “Times are tough, and we do provide people who are homeless with shelter and soup kitchens. And really, don’t most homeless people choose to be homeless after all?”.
We need to educate people on this front. The Here At Home series will play an important role in helping people across the country better understand homelessness, through hearing people who have experienced it talk about it. More importantly, the series helps all of us learn that there are real solutions to this seemingly intractable problem, and that Housing First works! The At Home / Chez Soi project shows that even when you take the most hard core, long term case; when you provide that person with a safe and decent place to live, when you treat them with respect and give them the supports they need, they stay housed. Nobody really wants to be homeless.
So visit the site, watch a video or two, and then share it. There are solutions to homelessness!
This article was originally posted on the National Film Board’s ‘Here at Home: In Search of the Real Cost of Homelessness blog.
December 10, 2012
It wasn’t so long ago that I would lament the lack of impact of research on the homelessness crisis in Canada. You often used to hear people say, “We don’t need research – we know what the problem is and we know what the solution is.”
I used to think, well, wrong on all counts. I could understand people’s impatience with the lack of progress, but really, I couldn’t think of any other crisis – whether it be HIV/AIDS, cancer or global warming – where people would see no need for research. What made this crisis so special?
The good news is that things have begun to change in a big way in the last several years. Communities across Canada are starting to see the value of research, and many researchers finding better ways to engage with service providers, communities, government and with people who have experienced homelessness in order to conduct research that contributes to solutions.
There are in fact many clear ways in which research can make an important contribution. First, there is conceptual research. This is research that inspires shifts in how we think about, understand and talk about the problem of homelessness. Research that poses the question, ‘can we and should we do things differently?’ Here I’m thinking of Hal Pawson’s work on homelessness prevention that has been so influential around the world, or Culhane and Metraux’ work on chronic homelessness in the United States. The recent CHRN Canadan Definition of Homelessness, produced through a collaborative process involving researchers, service providers, people in government and those with lived experience, is conceptual work in that it gives us clear language about how to think about homelessness.
The second kind of research that matters is instrumental research. This is research that helps us understand the effectiveness of our responses to homelessness. In other words, we can no longer just assume we are doing the right thing; we need to better understand, what works, why it works, for whom it works and under what conditions. There is growing recognition in the homelessness sector that we need to do more work on evaluating programs, using data management systems to understand the work at the systems level, and develop robust case study analyses of policy, systems and program level responses that will allow communities to share and adapt promising practices. The At Home / Chez Soi project (funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada) is the most extensive research project on Housing First ever conducted, and is already showing amazing results. This research will help us really understand how Housing First works for different sub-populations, and in different urban and rural community contexts.
Finally, there is the symbolic use of research. That is, we can use research as evidence to help make the case for retaining what works, or what to do differently. Research can inform policy makers, practitioners, politicians and the general public about homelessness, its causes, conditions and solutions. A good example of this is the recent report: The Real Cost of Homelessness – Can we save money by doing the right thing?, which has inspired conversations across the country about the fact that while we might think that addressing homelessness through emergency services allows us to deal with this issue ‘on the cheap,' it is in fact really quite expensive, and not particularly effective.
So research does seem to matter after all. The challenge in making an impact is taking the evidence and having the learnings applied in real world situations. Communities like Calgary have become leaders in taking an evidence-based approach to solving homelessness, as has the Province of Alberta. All of this makes me optimistic that we can solve homelessness, especially if we draw from research evidence, and involve people from different sectors and walks of life working together to create solutions that treat people with dignity and give them hope.
About Stephen Gaetz
Dr. Stephen Gaetz is the Director of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network and an Associate Professor, Faculty of Education at York University.
International Homelessness Research ConferenceCALL FOR PAPERS to the International Homelessness Research Conference: Advancing the Policy and Practice of Crisis Response Systems, to be held Monday, June 3 to Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More details here.
October 01, 2012
The impacts of homelessness are not only physical and emotional – they are also social. Becoming homeless has been referred to as a “social death” – one in which a person’s social identity is radically transformed from neighbour and citizen to unwanted and threatening Other. The expressions of this “Othering” pervade our society, from comedy sketches ridiculing “hobos,” to laws like Ontario’s Safe Streets Act that make certain actions punishable only if performed by a person who appears to be homeless. What the comedians and legislators have in common in these examples is that they depict people facing homelessness as having less dignity, fewer rights, and less inherent worth than “ordinary” people – in short, as less than human. Just as importantly, such depictions influence how self-identified “ordinary” people see and respond to people they believe to be homeless.
Antipoverty activist Jean Swanson coined the term “poor-bashing” to name the attitudes, behaviours and policies that diminish the humanity of poor people. In a report co-authored with Wendy Pederson, she elaborates:
“Poor bashing is when people who are poor are discriminated against, stereotyped, humiliated, despised, pitied, patronized, ignored, blamed, and / or falsely accused of being lazy, drunk, stupid, uneducated and not wanting to work.”
For women facing homelessness, poor-bashing and discriminatory attitudes towards homeless people are further compounded by marginalization on the basis of gender, race, Aboriginal identity, age, disability, immigration status, sexual orientation and other factors. The result is a profound denial of fundamental human rights – which women facing homelessness in Canada brought to the attention of the United Nations in 2006.
Front-line services aim to address the effects of poverty and homelessness: they provide food, a place to sleep, emotional support, and resources. But being treated as less than human is as much an impact of homelessness as being dehoused and hungry. Services can help address the social impacts of homelessness by creating environments of mutual respect in which women’s human rights are recognized and restored.
Since 2010, I have been leading a study to look at how, exactly, services can create such environments – and today, the final report is released on Homeless Hub. The study was funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s Homeless Knowledge Development Program, with a mandate to identify, analyze and disseminate promising practices in homelessness services. Members of this research-action project didn’t just talk the talk, we walked the walk, striving to implement the good practices we were learning about. The project was based on feminist participatory action research methods, with a research team and advisory committee in which women facing homelessness, academic researchers, service providers, and self-advocacy groups worked side-by-side.
We agreed to focus on service practices that:
- directly involve women facing homelessness in designing and delivering policies and programs;
- promote women’s strengths, skills, self-reliance, and mutual support; and
- reflect and respond to diverse needs, identities and experiences.
We believed that such practices would be key in shaping service environments where women’s rights are promoted.
Unfortunately, as we heard in this project (and as I have witnessed first-hand in the past as a front-line worker), not all services uphold women’s basic rights of autonomy, dignity and self-determination. One focus group participant put it very eloquently:
“Canada ends at the doorstep of the shelters. When you’re outside, it’s Canada. When you go in, it isn’t. When I go in the door I know I’ve left Canada behind. When I say Canada, I mean everything – the values, the principles, what they stand for, everything.”
But the good news is, many front-line services are finding innovative ways to include women facing homelessness in service design, delivery, governance and evaluation; to build on women’s strengths through peer service models; and to promote women’s leadership and civic engagement. There are inspiring models outside the homelessness sector, too, that can be borrowed and built upon. Most importantly, women’s own responses to homelessness have much to teach organizations. Our report not only describes some of these great examples, it also identifies the day-to-day practices that are necessary to their success.
Making services better won’t end homelessness. The root causes of women’s homelessness— unaffordable housing, insufficient incomes, inadequate services, discrimination, and violence—must be addressed by changes to economic and social policies at the federal and provincial levels. But while we continue to advocate for changes at the systemic level, women facing homelessness and service providers can also work towards changes closer to “home”: in our organizations, and in our relationships with each other.
As this report demonstrates, these changes are already taking place among women and organizations all across Canada. The promising practices described here are at once visionary and practical, inspirational and instructive, infinitely adaptable and locally-specific. We hope that readers will take freely from these ideas and try them out. Working together, front-line services and women facing homelessness can build organizations that will challenge not only the social impacts of homelessness, but its root causes as well.
Download the Full Report
September 10, 2012
What is in a definition? Leading policy makers, service providers and researchers from across the country have long lamented the fact that Canada has no national definition of homelessness. The feeling has been that there is a need for an agreed upon definition of homelessness in order to provide all levels of government and community groups with a framework for understanding and describing homelessness, and a means of identifying goals, strategies and interventions, as well as measuring outcomes and progress.
This week, the Canadian Homelessness Research Network at York University officially launches the Canadian Definition of Homelessness. This definition, created through a collaborative community process, has now been endorsed by communities, researchers and governments across the country.
You might think, “What’s the big deal? Do we really need a definition? Isn’t it obvious what homelessness is? Well, at a certain level, I think we can all agree that people sleeping in parks or under bridges are homeless. However, you don’t have to move too far beyond that for things to get complicated. Is a young person who is sleeping on a friend’s couch because they were kicked out of their home, ‘homeless’? Is someone who is staying in a mental health facility, but who has no home to go to upon release homeless? These are important issues for policy makers and practitioners. In fact, the breadth and complexity of the issues underlying homelessness create a sense that the issue is unbounded, and difficult to get a handle on, particularly because many people suffer from similar individual and structural problems, but never become homeless. This can also create the ‘illusion’ that it is therefore difficult to solve.
A case can be made that addressing any complex problem cannot be done without first having a thorough understanding of the nature and extent of the problem. After all, you cannot measure the scope of the problem without first knowing who is and is not affected. This notion is precisely the challenge that faces all strategic initiatives aimed at addressing homelessness, and our lack of clarity about what counts and what does not gets in the way of creating comprehensive strategies to address homelessness, evaluate outcomes and progress, and share effective practices.
Check out the Canadian Definition of Homelessness. Click here and you will find:
- The Canadian Definition of Homelessness in both official languages;
- A one-pager that includes an easy to use table;
- “Making the case for the Canadian Definition of Homelessness”, which presents the utility of the definition; and
- A background document that brings together the Canadian and international research on definitions of homelessness.
On this page, you will see a list of the many national, regional and local organizations that have officially endorsed the definition.
Finally, Canada joins other jurisdictions, including the United States, the European Union, and Australia in having a national definition to assist in developing effective solutions to homelessness.
April 11, 2012
There’s a new national player in the struggle to end homelessness in Canada. The new Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness was launched last week, and promises to be an effective champion for ending homelessness in Canada by mobilizing communities and governments across the country to develop and implement their own 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness. Check out their newly released “A Plan Not a Dream”, a document that outlines the Ten Year Plan approach.
“We will seek to make progress one community at a time, building on the proven success of communities like Calgary.” says Tim Richter, who will head up this effort. The CAEH will also play a strong role in ensuring that all levels of government in Canada do their part in supporting communities, including through investment in affordable housing.
Why do I like this new Alliance? First, the focus is on supporting communities, municipalities and provincial and national governments to develop strategic and coordinated responses to homelessness. I have long argued that we need to move away from a response that simply provides emergency services such as shelters and drop-ins. In many, if not most communities, the provision of emergency services means that homelessness is addressed through a fragmented patchwork of such services, often with a heavy dose of law enforcement (we have to acknowledge that the criminalization of homelessness IS unfortunately part of our national strategy to address homelessness).
The Ten Year Plan model, first pioneered in the United States, but successfully adapted in many Canadian cities, has shown that we can shift this focus, not only though strategic coordination, but also by emphasizing prevention and rapid rehousing (it should be noted that Housing First is a central strategy of the Ten Year Plan model). This means retooling the emergency sector to ensure that people don’t languish in shelters for years. The Ten Year Plan model has been proven effective, and Tim Richter will bring his experience from the highly successful model in Calgary to the national stage.
A second strong feature of the approach advocated by the CAEH is the foundational belief that research and data collection must be part of the solution. For too long in Canada, we have said: “We don’t need research to solve homelessness; we know what the problem is, and we know what the solution is”. Wrong! This kind of thinking has actually gotten in the way. In communities that have successfully addressed homelessness, research has been used to address instrumental concerns (does Housing First work?), pose conceptual challenges (How can we shift the focus to prevention), implement program evaluation, and as a means of supporting systems-based responses through data management (such as the highly successful HMIS system). Research DOES matter.
Now some people may question whether we need yet another national entity for addressing homelessness. Won’t this just increase competition and dilute the effort? In fact, the CAEH and other important national voices such as the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, Raising the Roof, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Wellesley Institute and Eva’s Initiatives, as well as many other significant local groups have already signaled not only their intent, but their active commitment to working collaboratively in a way that enhances the work of everyone.
Others may question whether there is much to be learned from a model that originated in the United States, or whether the Alberta experience is transferable to the rest of Canada. Well, on that front, we need to get over ourselves! We need to identify the best ideas; figure out what works; and adapt these practices to new contexts. I don’t care where an idea comes from. If it’s a good idea and it is proven effective, I’ll take it.
October 11, 2011
The minority Liberal government voters elected on October 6 provides a political opportunity for Ontario to realize a long-overdue and much-needed four-point affordable housing plan. The province’s last two minority governments delivered robust housing initiatives: In 1975, the province’s first rent regulation and tenant protection laws, which grew more substantial and effective until they were significantly dismantled in 1998; and Ontario’s first major affordable housing programs in 1985, which were successfully increased until they were shut down in 1995.
The signs of Ontario’s province-wide housing distress are clear: one in every three Ontario renter households are in core housing need – the federal government’s definition of precarious housing. Approximately 1.3 million provincial households pay 30 percent or more of their income on housing, the official definition of unaffordable housing. There are more than 152,000 households on affordable housing waiting lists across Ontario. Housing is not only the single biggest expense in the monthly budget of low and moderate-income households, but the high cost of housing is one of the biggest factors driving people to food banks because they don’t have enough money to pay the rent, and cover other basics such as food, energy, transportation and child care. Housing is also one of the most important fundamentals for good health for individuals and for the entire population. However, federal and provincial investments in affordable housing are set to drop sharply this year, and continue to decline after 2014.
A four-point housing agenda for the new minority Ontario government would include the following:
New affordable homes: Most parts of Ontario urgently need more affordable homes to accommodate people that are homeless or in grossly substandard and over-crowded housing, and also to deal with population growth. A provincial inclusionary housing policy that authorizes municipalities to introduce planning rules that would require affordable housing in all new developments is one important measure, but it needs to be combined with a long-term affordable housing supply initiative that includes committed funding. In recent years, most affordable housing development dollars in Ontario have come from the federal government, with some of these dollars matched by the province. But the federal housing investments are eroding ($1.2 billion in housing cuts this year alone), and Ontario has no plan to deal with the federal withdrawal.
Affordability measures: A universal housing benefit that would help cover the gap between household income and housing costs is long overdue. The Ontario government has dabbled in various housing supplements over the years, but – as the auditor-general noted in 2009 – none have been particularly well designed. With conventional ownership housing increasingly out of reach for low, moderate and even middle-income households, and the federal government committed to tightening mortgage eligibility rules even more, the pressure is building on the province’s private rental and social housing stock. But vacancies are low, and rents are rising in private rental markets throughout the province.
Rent regulation / rental housing protection: For almost a quarter of a century, Ontario had increasingly effective rent regulation and rental housing protection laws. In 1998, the provincial government of the day introduced “vacancy decontrol,” which allows landlords to charge any rent they want on a vacant unit. This has allowed rents to increase significantly, often much higher than the mandated provincial guideline. In addition, rent regulation is waived for newly constructed buildings. The gaps in rent regulation laws need to be patched. Ontario used to have a law that slowed the demolition or conversion of private rental housing. Although the province’s population is increasing, and there is a growing need for new rental homes, the private rental housing universe has been stagnant or declining in most parts of the province. The previous law required landlords seeking to take private rental housing off the market to ensure that the tenants were re-housed. Rent regulation and rental housing protection are key components of a critically important enhancement of tenant protection laws.
Ending homelessness / linking with supports: Ontario is lagging behind other provinces, including Alberta, in making a commitment – and backing it with a solid plan and funding – to end homelessness. The province’s so-called long-term affordable housing strategy does contain some useful measures, including a commitment to work with municipalities to create more flexibility among a variety of disjointed provincial homelessness and housing programs, but a specific provincial plan with adequate funding is lacking. A key to preventing and ending homelessness is an effective strategy that links health and social supports with housing through a “housing first” approach – successfully used in a growing number of US and Canadian jurisdictions. Ontario’s supportive housing policies have not kept pace with innovative developments in Canada and internationally.
Reprinted with permission from the Wellesley Institute
Michael Shapcott is Director, Affordable Housing and Social Innovation at the Wellesley Institute, an independent, non-profit research and policy dedicated to advancing urban health. Michael has worked extensively in Toronto, in many parts of Canada, nationally and internationally on social innovation, the non-profit sector, civic engagement, housing and housing rights, poverty, social exclusion, urban health and health equity. He is recognized as one of Canada’s leading community-based housing and homelessness experts.
August 05, 2011
Calgary launches its Plan to End Youth Homelessness
I think it’s time to change the way we respond to youth homelessness in Canada. I began working with homeless youth in the early 1990s at Shout Clinic in Toronto. At that time, the youth homelessness population was exploding, and communities were scrambling to develop emergency services to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable young people who found themselves on the street. Today, many years later, we still address youth homelessness primarily through the provision of emergency services, such as shelters, drop-ins and clinics. Yet for me, the longer I am involved with the issue of homelessness, the more frustrated I get by the fact that we think this is OK – that it is reasonable to have young people languish in emergency services with limited opportunities, without access to school and with seemingly irrevocable breaches with family. Our recent report, Family Matters, asks for a radical shift in how we address youth homelessness.
So, where is the innovation? Who is going to take the first step?
The Calgary Homeless Foundation just released its “Plan to End Homelessness in Calgary”. Those interested in what an effective and humane response to youth homelessness could look like should really check this out. There is no doubt that this is the most innovative plan to address youth homelessness in Canada, and if implemented well, will drastically reduce youth homelessness and give many young people a better chance of growing into adulthood in a safe way, with appropriate supports and opportunities. The basic tenets of the plan weren’t simply pulled from thin air. They are drawn from a grounded understanding of effective responses to youth homelessness, particularly from the UK and Australia. Here is what I like about the plan:
Making the case for an investment in youth homelessness
Many places in Canada have few - if any – supports for homeless youth. In other places, there are designated services, but these do not always recognitize that the causes of youth homelessness (and thus, the solutions) are distinct from those that characterize the adult population. Communities need to recognize that there is need for a strategic, coordinated and integrated response to youth homelessness based on the developmental needs of young people.
Focus on prevention
The Calgary plan goes farther than any other Canadian community I know of in investing in the prevention of youth homelessness. Drawing heavily on really creative ideas from the United Kingdom and Australia, this plan demonstrates how you can make prevention work, by: a) putting systems in place that identify young people at risk of homelessness, and giving them and their families the supports they need, b) adopting a policy that ends the institutional practice (child protection services, corrections, mental health) of discharging young people into homelessness, c) recasting the role of emergency shelters and outreach services, and d) encouraging the development of innovative, coordinated and targeted initiatives that stop young people from falling into homelessness, or conversely, to help them transition into independence in a safe and planned way.
Housing for young people
One cannot address youth homelessness if there is not an adequate supply of affordable and supportive housing options. Recognizing that young people moving into independent living have special needs distinct from adults (most youth have no experience running their own home), the plan includes innovative approaches to housing young people who can no longer return home, or who have no home to go to.
Case Management and a Common Assessment Framework
An effective response to youth homelessness does not rely on young people figuring things out themselves (I wouldn’t want that for my children). Rather, there is need for a really good case management approach that prevents young people from slipping through the cracks and in the shelter system for years. The development and adoption of a ‘common assessment framework’ (widely used in the UK) will allow for effective client-centred planning and programming.
Role of research and data collection
The Calgary plan that draws heavily on what we know about the causes of youth homelessness, but also effective solutions. It is a strong example of how we can make research matter. At the same time, the plan calls for effective implementation of a data management system, so that progress can be tracked, systems evaluated and improvements made.
The process by which this plan was developed relied heavily on engagement with community members including service providers in the sector, but more importantly, young people who have experienced homelessness.
The Calgary plan’s strength lies in its systems level approach that focuses on stopping youth homelessness before it starts and on helping those who do become homeless to successfully move into independent living as soon as possible and with the necessary supports, so that they can grow into adulthood and achieve the promise that we want for all young people.
This is the best plan to address youth homelessness in Canada right now, and CHRA and Eva’s Initiatives are preparing to launch their responses to youth homelessness in short order. Things are beginning to change after all.
October 25, 2010
When we talk about the Canadian response to homelessness, we usually refer to things like emergency shelters, charitable food programs, drop ins and other supports. One of the things we don’t talk about enough is the relationship between homelessness and criminal justice. That is, one of the central features of our response is the use of policing, courts and jails as a way of dealing with homelessness.
A recently released report by the John Howard society presents a powerful indictment (if I can use court language) of this situation. In their study, Homeless and Jailed, Jailed and Homeless, the JHS research team interviewed 363 sentenced prisoners, and they uncovered some disturbing findings. For instance, I think that many Canadians would be surprised to learn that roughly one in every five prisoners was homeless immediately prior to winding up in jail.
What about when they are to be released? What these reseachers found was that 85.5% of those who were formerly homeless anticipated being homeless upon release. Worse still, 16.4% of those who were housed before serving jail time anticipated being homeless upon release. In other words, incarceration is likely producing homelessness.
The writers argue: "Homeless prisoners are a vulnerable group – they tend to be older, 22.3 percent are 50 years of age or older. A high proportion of them, 43.3 percent, have severe health impairments. Most of them rely on income support programs, whose benefits they lose while in jail; in many cases, they must re-apply for these benefits after they are discharged."
So what can we learn from all this? Here are some key things to think about:
First, our reliance on using "emergency services" as our key response to homelessness in Canada (as opposed to preventing people from becoming homeless, or rapidly rehousing them) puts homeless people in harms way, and leads to a cycle of homelessness / prison / homelessness.
Second, we need to acknowledge that a central feature of our response to homelessness is the criminalization of the homeless. Whether through ticketing, special laws like the Safe Streets Act, or local efforts to ‘clean up the streets’, we use the justice system as a central strategy to deal with homelessness and extreme poverty. We need to ask, ‘why are we putting so many homeless people in jail?” This is a pretty expensive way to deal with the problem.
Finally, we need to some serious reforms in corrections if we want to address the problem of homelessness. One of the outcomes of the ‘get tough on crime’ movement has been a set of reforms that reduce in-prison rehabilitation programs, and undermine effective discharge planning. Discharge planning helps prepare prisoners for release from prision (and the vast majority do get released!) and should include ensuring people have a safe place to stay.
We know from other research (here, here and here) that inadequate discharge planning often leads to homelessness, and that ex-prisoners who become homeless do less well than those who are able to secure housing. In a sense, the lack of effective discharge planning becomes a ‘crime production’ policy and practice.
The cycle between prison and jail is one that we must address, and can stop.
For additional reading, see the Homeless Hub's Legal and Justice Issues topic:
- Criminalization of homelessness
- Corrections and rehabilitation programs
Also see the Safe Streets Act, 1999, of Ontario.
October 20, 2010
By Tim Richter & Katrina Milaney –
In the year 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released a report calling for communities across the U.S. to develop and implement 10 year plans to end homelessness. The shift from managing homelessness to ending it became a priority and by 2010, over 300 communities in the U.S. have developed 10 year plans to end homelessness.
The question is do they work? Are cities with plans to end homelessness actually ending homelessness? While specifics vary across communities, the following are three examples:
The Denver plan was implemented in 2005. In the first two years, they had reduced over all homelessness by 11% and chronic homelessness by 36%. They further assisted over 3,600 homeless people to find employment and developed over 1,500 new housing units for homeless people. 1
Despite the downturn in the economy, in a two year period from 2007 to 2009, chronic homelessness was reduced by 35%. This was largely because 320 people were housed and 298 supportive housing units were created. Core strategies within the Sacramento plan include adopting the ‘housing first’ approach and creating permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities. 2
Within four and half years, over 2,000 people received housing. In 2009, 757 people received discharge planning upon release from health, psychiatric and correctional facilities to prevent homelessness. Since 2005, more than 3,643 households received rental assistance and avoided eviction into homelessness. Of those who were contacted 12 months later, 81% were still in housing 3 .
Currently, ending homelessness efforts are happening internationally and in 2008 Calgary became the first Canadian city to implement its own 10 year plan. Challenges were many. Any successful plan would need to build on international successes but be locally relevant. A paradigm shift was necessary, that is, shifting the thinking of politicians, policy makers, service providers and people experiencing homelessness that ending homelessness was not only necessary, but possible. As well, success required building multi-sector support for the plan, ensuring the plan was community led and sustainably funded.
Despite these challenges, in the first two years of Calgary’s plan there have been numerous successes
- more than 3,000 affordable housing units have been funded through partnerships with all three levels of government
- more than 1,500 people have received housing with support
- the number of people accessing Housing & Urban Affairs shelters has stabilized on a monthly basis after years of continuous growth
- the allocation of more than $70 million dollars in funding towards best practices for ending homelessness including priority to ‘housing first’ programs
- development of a policy agenda for municipal, provincial and federal governments to increase the stock of affordable housing, to reduce barriers to access supports and to expand homelessness prevention efforts
- implementation of Calgary’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) in 25 agencies by December 2010, with a total of 80 participating agencies will be online by 2012.
In addition, a considerable amount of rigorous collaborative research has been done in Calgary and across Canada leading to a clearer understanding of people’s experiences, pathways and patterns of homelessness and the economic and social costs associated with managing instead of ending homelessness. Examples include development of a toolkit for use with the Re-housing Triage Assessment Tool for prioritizing interventions for those most at risk, the Risks and Assets for Homelessness Prevention developed to prevent homelessness, dimensions of promising practice for case management in housing first, an ethnographic account of panhandling and informal labour amongst homeless Calgarians, exploratory GIS analysis of vulnerability, and housing challenges for newcomers. Development of best practices for the ‘support’ in ‘housing first’ and local, national and international networks have also been established.
Most important, momentum is building. All seven cities in Alberta have their own plans and Alberta remains the first and only province committed to ending homelessness. All of this progress is evidence that government, academics, researchers, service providers and our homeless neighbours are committed to ending homelessness and that comprehensive, collaborative 10 year plans do work.
Several years of learning from around the world and almost three years in Calgary show that ending homelessness is a process that is constantly evolving. We must continue to learn, adapt, and fine tune, to ensure that interventions are appropriate, reflective and relevant and have one definitive goal, ending homelessness.
Link to Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End homelessness
Link to Alberta 10 Year Plan to End homelessness
3. Home Again: a 10 year plan to End Homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County. 2009 Annual Report
Tim Richter is the President and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. He was drawn into a new career in the non-profit sector by the opportunity to lead the development of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness as project manager for the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. Prior to joining the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Tim was Director of Government Relations at TransAlta Corporation, one of Canada’s largest private power generation and wholesale marketing companies with operations in Canada, the United States and Australia. In addition to his work in the private sector, Tim has a long history of public service including work as a political staffer in Ottawa and seven years service in the Canadian Forces Army Reserve.
Katrina Milaney is the Manager of Community Based Research and Knowledge Mobilization with the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Katrina has been a researcher for several years engaged in numerous collaborative projects that uncover the root causes of social issues and how solutions to those social issues can advance social change. Katrina has a Masters degree in Community Health Sciences and is currently pursing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is a regular guest lecturer at the University of Calgary has been with the Calgary Homeless Foundation since June 2009.