Research Matters Blog
“What are the statistics on homelessness and mental health in Toronto?”
This question came to us anonymously through our latest survey.
Over the years, the Homeless Hub blog series has written extensively on the links between mental health and homelessness in Canada, however, we’ve not yet focused on any specific location. As Canada’s largest and most ethnically diverse city, Toronto has the greatest number of people experiencing homelessness with 5,253 people counted on the 2013 Street Needs Assessment (SNA). The Toronto count in 2013 found that 79% of those surveyed were staying in shelters, 8% on the street, 6% in correctional facilities, 3% in violence against women (VAW) shelters, and 4% in health care or treatment facilities. A study on health care access for homeless people found that among Toronto’s homeless population, one third identified as an immigrant, 45% identified as belonging to a racialized group, 22% identified as Black and 9% as Indigenous.
Toronto’s SNA is used to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness staying outdoors, or in a number of facilities on any given night. While the SNA offers important information, it does not provide an exact number of people experiencing homelessness in a community. For example, those disconnected from agencies serving the homeless population or who are couch surfing are likely not to be counted. However, a point-in-time estimate, such as Toronto’s SNA, does yield important information that would otherwise not be known.
Back in 2013, Isaac Coplan wrote a blog entry highlighting some of the findings in Toronto’s latest SNA, and I revisited the report to compile some data in connection to mental health, along with other statistics found in two other Toronto-focused studies on health and homelessness.
Mental Health & Homelessness in Toronto
The 2013 SNA highlights that 43% of respondents indicated that addressing their health needs was important. While only 2% indicated that mental health supports was most important to finding housing, 32% of respondents expressed an increased need for mental health services. Those who have been homeless for 2 years or more were two times more likely than those experiencing homelessness for a shorter period of time to indicate that mental health services was most important in finding housing. In contrast, 80% of women staying in VAW shelters indicated that help in addressing health needs was important to them, compared to 43% for all respondents. VAW shelter respondents were also 8% more likely to indicate the importance of mental health supports. Lastly, 49% of all respondents were on a subsidized housing waiting list and of those, 19% indicated having an application with the Coordinated Access to Supportive Housing system which provides access to housing catering to those with mental health and related needs.
While the 2013 SNA doesn’t provide further information beyond this data on mental health, it does provide a glimpse into the profile of homelessness in Toronto, and the rising needs for services required to better serve this population.
The Street Health Report 2007 reveals a similar picture of homelessness in Toronto based on a health survey for homeless adults in the downtown core. The findings in this study include:
- 35% of respondents had been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition in their lifetime.
- 12% said that they had mental health supports in the past but could no longer get help.
- The major reasons for not being able to obtain mental health care included:
- 38% did not have a doctor or didn’t know where to get care
- 29% saw a doctor but were not offered mental health care
- 24% were not able to get a referral to a specialist
- 24% did not have a health card
- 58% with a mental health diagnosis had been prescribed medication but:
- 28% said that the side effects were not explained to them
- 35% felt that they did not have a choice or say in their treatment plan
- 26% had been hospitalized with an average of 5 times for an emotional or mental health problem. Of this group:
- 70% said their most recent hospitalization was voluntary
- 30% were forced to go against their will
- 47% of respondents hospitalized in the past year of the study did not get help filling prescriptions when they were discharged from the hospital.
- 32% are unable to obtain medication due to the added expense, not having a benefit card or drug benefits not covering the prescription.
More recently, the Mental Health Commission of Canada conducted the At Home/Chez Soi study. The national study included demonstration sites in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton and was the world’s largest trial of Housing First. The project aimed to develop evidence on effective services and interventions for people who are homeless and living with mental health conditions and ran from October 2009 to June 2013.
The Toronto participant sample covered a wide range of demographics: 68% were male, over 54% were between the ages of 35-54, 54% were born in Canada, 70% were single, 28% had children, 49% had less than high school education, 4% had prior military service and 95% were currently unemployed despite 68% having previously been employed for at least one year with the same employer. Findings from this group include:
- Of the 575 participants followed for two years, 67% met the criteria for two or more mental illnesses or addiction, of which 37% had a psychotic condition.
43% of participants had two or more hospital admissions for a mental illness in any one-year period in the five years before study entry.
5% of participants reported having been hospitalized for mental health at least once for more than 6 months in that time period.
30% reported symptoms consistent with moderate to high suicide risk.
Toronto has a large network of mental health services for individuals who are both housed and homeless including inpatient/outpatient services, case management, crisis programs and ethnoracial-focused agencies, yet there is a great need for an integrated approach to better serve this population. In our section on systems approach to homelessness, we emphasize the need to utilize an inter-agency collaboration, individualized programming and community-based service provision. The At Home/Chez Soi study demonstrated that with coordinated support systems under a Housing First framework, people who are homeless and have a mental health condition can live independently in the community, and the majority indicated that they would prefer to do so.
Overall, the mental health status of people experiencing homelessness in Toronto is alarming. Many report extremely high rates of mental health symptoms and suicidal ideation. However, it’s important to note that unlike the comm
on stereotype of the homeless person suffering from psychosis, the most common conditions are depression and anxiety.
While quantitative methods reveal critical figures required for policy development that directly impact Canadians, people’s experiences and realities cannot be measured in numbers alone. Both The Street Health Report 2007 and the At Home/Chez Soi study used qualitative methods, including narrative interviews to reveal their experiences with mental health, homelessness, coping strategies and resilience. Qualitative data such as stories help us better understand the reality in unique ways that statistics simply cannot do.
Services in Toronto
With research increasing in the area of mental health and homelessness so are the programs available in Toronto, which include but are not limited to:
Street Health is a non-profit agency providing physical and mental health programs in the Dundas and Sherbourne area. Their community mental health program supports people access health services and has nurse practitioners who provide care at their drop-in centres and shelters.
Anishnawbe Health Toronto operates a 24/7 mental health crisis management service. They offer care from many disciplines including Traditional Healers, Elders and Medicine People, ancient ceremonies and traditions, intrinsic to Indigenous Peoples’ health care model.
Sistering provides basic services to women who are homeless and under-housed. Among their services, they offer crisis intervention and prevention support for women dealing with trauma and abuse.
Fostering an Inclusive Shelter Environment for LGBTQ2S Youth is a new mandatory training curriculum for Toronto’s shelters staff on topics of LGBTQ2S youth homelessness and the high rates of suicide and mental health.
CATCH is a program offered by St. Michael’s Hospital, CAMH, and St. Joseph’s Health Centre designed for people experiencing homelessness and needing care. The program provides referrals to patients and remains connected with them to ensure that they are receiving the care they need.
While these are just a few initiatives, advocates call on the need to integrate mental health care and homeless services as featured in CAMH’s Nowhere to Go film that focus on LGBTQ2S experiences in the shelter system. There are also gaps in the literature and further research is required to shed light on the experiences and needs of key populations through an intersectional framework. This would enable service providers and policy-makers to better understand the specific needs of homeless individuals living in Canada’s most diverse city.
More Toronto-Based Resources
- Mental health and addictions: How Ontario and Toronto can improve lives while saving billions
- Learning from the Groundbreakers – Models of Innovation in Addressing Mental Health Equity in Toronto
By way of introduction.
In the first blog in this series, Dr. Alina Turner gave an overview on the Haven’s Way program model – a Foyer supportive housing program for youth in Calgary - and what the evaluation research discerned of the program’s impact on supporting youth to achieve stability and independence. See full report on the program here.
It is important to complement the research perspective with of those of people ‘living’ Haven’s Way: the staff and youth residing in this home. In this blog, Heidi Walter, current Manager of Youth Housing at Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary and former House Parent at Haven’s Way describes what she feels is the essence of Haven's Way to better convey why it works. In this blog, she describes a typical day in her life at Haven’s where she lived with eight youth for four years.
Haven’s is a home.
When you walk in the door, you see lives being lived. There is a crocheted blanket on the couch knitted by a youth who was determined to learn a new skill. You see burnt cookies in the garbage from a youth that tried something new, a family dog that is in the backyard and youth in their rooms hanging out with their friend’s afterschool listening to music and talking way too loud.
When I lived at Havens Way as a House Parent, I came home from work, took off my shoes, yelled hello upstairs to the girls, asked them how their day was, and changed into my comfy clothes wrapping my hair in a ponytail. Dinner would get started, and like all teenagers, as soon as the smells made their way upstairs, they would slowly come down to see what was being made. Slithering up beside me to stir the pot, I would ask how school was, or why they didn’t go, all the while they asked what spices could be used to make the dinner taste a little different tonight. They would explain why it was hard to wake up today, or what barrier stood in their way of getting out the door. They would tell me about how great they did on an exam or how a teacher gave them feedback on an assignment that made them smile. They would continue to talk, and I would listen, while folding the laundry, tidying up the living room and answering one last email that I didn’t get to during the day.
After dinner, we would sit on the couch, flick through the channels and come back around to the school conversation and how tomorrow would be different. There would be no consequence given, no voices raised, but a gentle reminder of why they needed to go to school and what I could do tomorrow to support them in getting there……Crickets……
The knock on the door.
By 11 pm, all girls are home and I am ready for bed. I lock the door, hug the girls good night, and head to my room. It never fails, there is always a knock on my door. Teenagers’ best thinking and communication skills seem to come out at 11pm. My bedroom door would open and there would my girl that now wanted to talk about why they didn’t go to school. They would sit on the end of the bed and I would listen. They would tell me all the reasons they didn’t go to school, some valid, some not. I would listen. 12:00 am is what the clock reads on my nightstand and I think we are close to saying goodnight. I haven’t done much talking and there is no formal agreement made. We hug and say goodnight for the second time.
There for the journey.
The alarm goes off to start a new day, and I can already hear the shower upstairs. YES! We are getting up to go to school. I open my door and say good morning to all the girls. Lunches are made, lunches are forgotten. The house door opens and closes a dozen times because we forgot our phone charger, bus pass, and school bag. The lunch is still forgotten, but everyone is at school.
I didn’t do anything, but I did what they needed. I was there. I held their hand, I walked alongside them, I was there for their journey. I didn’t rush them, I didn’t force them. They “broke the rules” and I didn’t have to point that out. They knew it, but I still was there for them.
Did you know that the best time to grocery shop is at 9pm on work night? It was inevitable and no matter how many times I asked when I got home from work, or on the weekend, no one ever needed to go. But at 9pm on a Wednesday, we never had anything to eat. I would have to learn the balance of meeting them where they are at on their timelines and them learning to be more thoughtful when relying on others. This was one of the many teachable moments.
You never really leave.
I planned my wedding while living at Haven’s Way, and the girls were a part of every step. If you asked them, they would say I was a Bridezilla, I disagree. Maybe it was all the dress fittings they attended with me, or table decorations they helped create and the promised last trip to the mall.
Four years went by, many graduations, school meetings, sleepless nights, pickups at 3am in my pyjamas because they couldn’t get home, and runs to 7/11 for Slurpees. I myself graduated from Haven’s Way and move to a new home.
I have been a part of Haven’s Way for 10 years now. You never really leave. You show up for everything that is important because it is important. Weddings are being planned, flowers and cards are picked up for another graduation, and the girls expect to see you at Christmas dinners.
Just last week, one of the girls popped into my office to ask me to help them register for university. One asked if I could go to the mechanics with her, as she thought she was being taken for a ride. Now in my own home, I go through my closet and when cleaning it out I package it up for my girls to go through. I know I will see them next week at their graduation. They call me ‘Momma Heidi’.
This is Haven’s Way.
It is a home, where you bring your true authentic self. You are humble and kind. You have bad days in front of the kids: they see you running late for work, with a toothbrush in your mouth, telling them to clean up. No prescription, no textbooks, just us, living our life.
Havens Way helped us build a family. Family is not who you are given, it is what you make it. These girls are roommates, sisters and best friend’s years after. They are each other’s family, and I am a part of it.
This is Havens Way – from my perspective. In the next blog post in this series, we will hear from a youth who lived at Haven’s Way and continues to be engaged in Alumnae activities as Haven’s Angel; coincidentally, her name is Ange.
This past National Housing Day marked the 18th anniversary of Toronto City Council declaring homelessness a national disaster in Canada, commemorating hundreds of Canadians who have lost their lives as a direct result of experiencing homelessness. To commiserate the occasion, the federal government released What We Heard: Shaping Canada’s National Housing Strategy. The report shares the voices of Canadians and their concerns with all things housing — chiefly among them being affordability, sustainability, accessibility and a desire to prevent homelessness. With this feedback, the federal government plans to implement the housing concerns of Canadians in the final proposal expected to be released in early 2017.
We applaud the federal government in mobilizing this crucially needed initiative. We are further encouraged that Canadians who took part in the consultation process recognized the role that discrimination plays in inadequate housing, specifically that: “…a national housing strategy should examine whether our laws, policies and practices are sufficient to prevent homelessness, forced evictions, and discrimination in having adequate housing”. Promisingly, the results demonstrate that Canadians possess a nuanced understanding of the multiple factors that lead to homelessness and the solutions needed, of which, a prevalent and consistent barrier to housing and a precursor to homelessness is discrimination.
Homelessness & Discrimination
Homelessness and discrimination commonly intersect, as discrimination often acts as a structural precursor to homelessness and, in turn, the experience of homelessness can lead to being discriminated against. Discrimination occurs when an individual is treated differently than another solely on the basis of some characteristic or indeed an interplay of characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, religion, physical disability, mental illness, age, citizenship status, gender, and/or socioeconomic status. Discrimination significantly impacts the options and choices of individuals when it comes to all sorts of things in life such as employment, housing and access to services that all contribute to an increased risk of experiencing homelessness. Although individuals from any background can experience homelessness, research shows that marginalized populations are overrepresented among the homeless population in proportion to their population makeup in Canada.
Research on housing discrimination demonstrates prejudice on the part of landlords and real estate agents in declining potential tenants based on a host of characteristics, and that despite the presence of anti-discrimination laws in Canada, discriminatory practices are increasingly implicit, rather than explicit. Commonly reoccurring discriminatory practices include:
Racialized women disportionately discriminated against when seeking housing.
In particular, single mothers experience discrimination from landlords based on their age, family size, low income, receiving welfare, race, language proficiency and a lack of references.
Research demonstrates that immigrant populations of Jamaican and Somali origin cited experiencing discrimination in Toronto based on multiple factors in addition to race, including income level, citizenship status, religion and family size when compared to their Polish immigrant counterparts.
Many individuals are denied housing based on their low socioeconomic status, if they are recipients of social assistance, or have formerly experienced homelessness. When denied housing on these grounds, individuals have stated this being a direct precursor to needing to seek emergency shelter accommodation.
Due to discrimination based on age and low socioeconomic status, youth commonly experience barriers to acquiring housing.
One study found that ⅓ of individuals seeking housing will face discrimination and be denied housing based on their mental illness.
Often times, minimum income or affordability requirements will be imposed upon prospective tenants, to which those who are more likely to be of lower socioeconomic status (youth, people with disabilities, single mothers, newcomers) will be unlikely to meet.
A study by CMHC found that in Winnipeg, Indigenous populations are commonly denied housing. One in three individuals surveyed scoping out a potential listing were told it had already been rented, thus pushing the individual to seek housing in uninhabitable regions.
From these findings, it is clear that individuals who find themselves subjected to discrimination based on singular or variously intersected elements of their identity consistently face barriers to obtaining housing. This is further compounded by the structural epidemic of unaffordable housing in Canada and the magnitude of Canadians in need of social housing. In Ontario alone, 171,360 are on wait lists for rent-geared-to-income units. Indigenous populations specifically are overrepresented in the general population of those in need of housing in all provinces and territories.
Discrimination as a precursor to homelessness however is not isolated to housing alone, but rather is underpinned throughout society and reproduces inequality across all spheres, limiting opportunities for socioeconomic mobility and stability. Factors that deny individuals housing also work to impede employment and educational opportunities, and can lead to an increased risk of homelessness via a lack of stable income. For instance:
- Racialized youth often face discrimination that is found to impact schooling and thus educational attainment, restricting opportunities for upward mobility and breaking free from non-precarious, entry-level employment.
Employment discrimination based on disability is a widely prevalent issue. Research demonstrates that working-age persons with physical and/or mental health disabilities are less likely to hold paid jobs than other Canadians due to discrimination based on an applicant's disability and/or a lack of supports and accommodations in the workplace.
Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation commonly impacts LGBTQ2S individuals in obtaining and/or maintaining employment, where one study found that in the U.S., employment discrimination costs $64 billion annually in expenses related to individuals who leave their jobs due to a toxic, discriminatory workplace environment.
Across OECD countries, employment discrimination based on race is consistently demonstrated. Researchers have found that applications with white-sounding names are 50% more likely to receive a call back for a job when compared to their counterparts with racially or religiously distinctive names.
Single mothers often face discriminatory employment practices, as potential employers may be hesitant to hire single parent applicants conscious of the demands of parenting and possible conflicts with availability and scheduling, facilitating a greater risk of poverty for this demographic.
Additionally, due to the stigma associated with homelessness, employers are commonly cited to be apprehensive in hiring individuals who have experienced homelessness.
From this, discrimination as a barrier to employment as well as housing is inextricably linked with homelessness, as it impacts one's ability to obtain housing, work or an education thus contributing to a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape. However, with the forthcoming release of Canada’s national housing strategy we have an opportunity to implement an anti-discrimination framework that works to identify and combat the role discrimination plays for many Canadians in obtaining safe, secure and affordable housing. It is encouraging that the release of What We Heard: Shaping Canada’s National Housing Strategy showed that Canadians want to have communities and workplaces that are inclusive and accessible to all individuals. In order to have a housing strategy that works for the many rather than the few, initiatives such as educating landlords in non-discriminatory practices, funding regular housing discrimination audits to monitor housing discrimination and providing resources to individuals in order to seek legal counselling when and if discrimination occurs are only a few suggestions towards making a society more inclusive to all Canadians.
There are many ways that students can get involved in volunteering with homeless serving agencies and organizations. This blog post details the activities of two student-led initiatives at York University working with people experiencing homelessness. We interviewed Omar Salama and Samantha Memedoska from Keep Toronto Warm and Awo Dirie from Fix the 6ix to find out more about the work that these organizations are doing, and how young people can get involved in volunteering.
Keep Toronto Warm
Omar Salama and Samantha Memedoska are co-directors of Keep Toronto Warm, an initiative that began in November of last year. Keep Toronto Warm works with roughly 15 volunteers at any given time to distribute ‘warmth packages’ to the unsheltered homeless. Student volunteers are at the forefront of all distributions and events, and all donations received go toward purchasing items for their warmth packages. One package includes 2 pairs of warm socks, a hot beverage gift card, a warm blanket and a personalized letter from the donor.
“We recognize that we cannot solve the larger political and social issues that cause homelessness” says co-director, Samantha Memedoska, “but we can give people an immediate resource that they may need, like a pair of warm socks or a hot drink.”
In September of this year they launched Keep Toronto Fed, a related initiative that aims to address food insecurity in the city. After collecting perfectly good food deemed by retailers to be ‘unsellable’ (for example, one or two day-old produce that would otherwise go to waste), a team of dedicated students distribute packed lunches around the city. Their first distribution was a huge success, thanks to generous donations from The Great Canadian Bagel company and the work of student volunteers.
Fix the 6ix
Awo Dirie is the Assistant Director of Fix the 6ix, an organization that leads two separate programs that serve Torontonians in need; the ReGiftcard Program, and 100 for the Homies. Fix the 6ix repurposes the cash balance on unwanted and partially used gift cards through their ReGiftcard Program. To date, they have collected over 500 gift cards with over $2500 in credit.
In addition to providing meals to people both on the street and in shelters, they also purchase clothing and hygiene items for Sistering 24 hour women’s drop in, and donate Cineplex movie tickets to Eva’s Place Homeless Youth Shelter. Although they recognize that their programs offer only “temporary relief to food insecurity” through the continued efforts of student volunteers, they’ve supported over 20 shelters across the GTA.
As many Toronto Raptors fans know, after every 100+ point home win, attending fans can take their tickets to redeem a free slice of pizza at participating Pizza Pizza locations. Through the 100 for the Homies program, Fix the 6ix collects tickets donated by fans, and distributes them at Toronto homeless shelters. Since April of the 2015/2016 season 100 for the Homies has collected 13,787 tickets donated by raptors fans. Sometimes shelters simply don’t have the capacity to properly store donated food, especially if it's highly perishable. 100 for the Homies offers a solution to this issue. At shelters, residents can make the autonomous decision whether or not to redeem their ticket for a slice of pizza.
After providing us with some background information on their organizations, we asked Samantha, Omar and Awo to answer a few questions to get a better understanding of the work that their organizations do, and their future goals.
What inspired you to set up your organization?
Keep Toronto Warm: The needs of our community inspired the start of this organization, and continues to inspire us everyday. Specifically, we were triggered by an article that we read which highlighted the death of two homeless individuals during the winter stemming from the lack of resources and space available in shelters. It was not difficult to walk the streets of the downtown core and notice that the community lacked the essentials to survive.
Fix the 6ix: It was Deanna Lentini, a student of Kinesiology and Health Science and Founding Director of Fix the 6ix, whose eagerness to make change inspired us. Her overall goal was to make the city a better place by supporting our most in-need residents; Fix the 6ix was prompted by the passion she had for her own town. She wanted to give others an easy and ‘no-cost’ way to help those in-need.
How do you think your organization is able to help and impact people experiencing homelessness?
Keep Toronto Warm: Our organization is not able to address the structural and larger political issues involved in homelessness, it is however, able to tackle some of the more immediate forces directly affecting the community. As a group we can provide immediate protection from the cold; short-term comfort and access to resources for future support.
Fix the 6ix: We work to advocate for and serve the homeless community, and we also help to connect people experiencing homelessness to shelters across Toronto. Ultimately, although we hope to make as many donations as we can to those in need, we also want to start a meaningful discussion about the issue of homelessness in Toronto, and what we can do to change it.
How can young people become involved?
Keep Toronto Warm: Youth can get involved by lending time to organizations helping to combat larger social issues in the community, like homelessness. Young people often have many resources available to them through their schools and communities, and consequently it’s not too difficult to find support if they would like to start programs like ours.
Fix the 6ix: Getting youth involved in anything is a great way to increase visibility and also a great way to bring in people who really want to help. Youth bring in fresh and innovative ideas that can also help an organization to grow and develop. If you are interested in volunteering with either of our programs, you can fill out our online form and email it to email@example.com.
What are the current and future goals that your organization is focused on?
Keep Toronto Warm: Our main goal is to positively impact the lives of people without shelter during the winter by providing them with essential care packages. In the future, we hope to spread awareness in our communities; by educating and highlighting the issue of homelessness, we can hopefully motivate others to get involved in whatever way that they can.
Fix the 6ix: Our ultimate goal is to offer visibility and inspire a new understanding of the homeless community in Toronto. In line with our values of promoting equity, inclusion and the importance of social capital, we hope to break the stigma that so often surrounds the issue of homelessness. We would love to focus on working with different shelters in the future, and also connect with universities and colleges outside of York University.
Other ways to get involved
Through volunteering with organizations like Fix the 6ix and Keep Toronto Warm, not only are students helping people in need, they’re also fostering empathy and self-efficacy. It is fantastic to see initiatives like these succeeding; they play a crucial role in raising homelessness awareness and challenging stigma and discrimination.
In addition to volunteering, other things must be done. In our State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 report, we emphasize that ending homelessness means doing things differently, and not simply managing the problem through relying on emergency services and supports. An alternative is to look at approaches that emphasize prevention and affordable housing solutions. By building on the success of previous interventions that have proven to be successful, like Housing First for example, this can lead to real reductions in homelessness. If we truly want to prevent and end homelessness in Canada, we must also consider the unique needs and circumstances of key populations to create effective, thus tailored, responses to homelessness.
This year, the federal government launched a consultation process to inform Canada’s first National Housing Strategy. On November 22nd, What We Heard: Shaping Canada’s National Housing Strategy was released, reflecting the views, ideas and insights of thousands of Canadians who participated in the consultations. Many respondents agreed that a fundamental goal of a National Housing Strategy should be to end homelessness in Canada, and to prioritize the needs of Canadians experiencing homelessness.
Although the consultation process is over, you can still write to your local MP, telling them that ending homelessness should be a top priority, and urging the Government to take immediate action on housing with a focused effort on ending homelessness.
Education and advocacy are also critical tools that contribute to the national dialogue on ending homelessness. Having conversations with others about homelessness can help to dispell myths and challenge stereotypes. Homelessness, despite its often very visible presence in urban areas, remains a commonly misunderstood social issue. You can learn more about topics, solutions and plans to end homelessness in our About Homelessness section.
We’ve also published blog posts in the past that provide more information about what you can do to address homelessness in your community:
- Where can donations be best used to help people experiencing homelessness?
- How can I help people experiencing homelessness during winter?
We would like to think Omar, Samantha and Awo for taking the time to meet with us and for sharing information about the work that they’re doing. If you’d like to learn more about Fix the 6ix and Keep Toronto Warm, visit their websites, linked throughout this blog post.
On the Blog Series
As efforts to end youth homelessness gain traction across the country, finding and implementing interventions that work for young people becomes increasingly important for communities. Unfortunately, there remains a lot of work to do for those of us in the research community to capture effective practice, and translate it in terms that make sense to policy makers, service providers, youth and funders.
With the support of the Homeless Hub, Government of Alberta, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and the Safe Haven Foundation, this blog series aims to shed light on an evidence-based approach to serving youth grounded in the Core Principles of the Foyer Model from Calgary, AB called Haven’s Way.
In this first blog, I provide an overview on the Haven’s Way program model – a supportive housing program for youth operated by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary (BGCC) and the key findings of the evaluation research. The evaluation report is now available to download and will also be presented in today’s webinar at 1PM (ET), for which you can sign up here.
It is important to complement the research perspective with of those of people ‘living’ Haven’s Way: the staff and youth residing in this home. To this end, this blog is followed by one from Heidi Walter, Manager of Youth Housing at Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Ange Neil, a youth participant. The fourth blog post will look at the perspective of the funder and will be written by Karen Sherbut, the co-founder of the Safe Haven Foundation.
In the final blog in the series, I will provide some of the key elements relevant to practitioners and funders interested in exploring the model’s application in their contexts. Here, I try to discern what key elements are ‘essential’ to the success of the program in achieving stability and independence for youth.
Introducing Haven’s Way
In 2015, at the request of Alberta Human Services and BGCC, I had the privilege to evaluate a long-standing program delivering innovative and effective supportive home-like environment to young women in Calgary since 2000. The residents at Haven’s Way share a duplex with Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary staff – a House Parent and a Supportive Roommate. An additional Case Manager supports the live-in staff and the six youth in the program at any one time.
The program was founded by the Safe Haven Foundation to offer a home for young women (14-24) who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. This risk has presented itself in many different ways including sexual, mental and physical abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect, mental health, drug addiction and involvement with street life. The program offers a safe home environment, surrounded by positive adult role models that support them to thrive in their daily lives and focus on their education.
Given the complexities of youth’s reported histories of family breakdown, trauma, mental health and addiction concerns prior to entering the program, Haven’s Way approach provides them with a home where can begin to heal, increase their level of education and develop the skills and supports that will transition them into adult self-sufficiency. From this perspective, the program aligns with the premises of the Foyer model and its focus on healthy youth development.
The youth receive basic living supports, as well as case management that follows the stages of change framework, is trauma-informed, and youth-centered. Youth receive individualized, flexible support that tailored in focus and intensity, molding to participant life circumstance and changing interests.
The evaluation of the program included interviews with staff and youth (current and past participants), the network of professionals who provided referral and additional supports to the program, funders and other researchers.
In short, the 100-page evaluation report boils down to this: the program works. It works from the perspective of youth, staff and external stakeholders. These views are also validated by 15 years of data and case file documentation on 70 different youth who went through the program.
Here are some highlights:
- Of the 18 youth evaluation participants, 100% reported improved housing stability, education and employment outcomes as result of program participation. In addition, 94% reported a very high level of satisfaction with the approach.
- Staff and youth confirm that for 2014-15, all but one program participant residing at Haven’s Way maintained housing stability and pursued educational and employment goals actively.
- Of the 11 graduates who left the program between 2012 and 2015, all but one had stable housing – living on their own rental accommodations, reuniting with their family or moving on to live with another natural support.
What’s important is to note that support doesn’t stop when youth move out. Although the 11 graduates had left an average of two years prior to the evaluation, staff maintained contact with them and were able to report the current housing, education and employment situation.
- 63.3% of the 11 past participants had graduated high school, were pursuing post-secondary/trade, and one was in high school.
- All but two (81.8%) were employed either part- or full-time
- Only one (9.1%) of 11 exits was considered negative as the participant left without a transition plan and has since experienced episodes of homelessness and housing instability.
Essential Program Elements
Beyond assessing the program’s effectiveness and areas for improvement, I also tried to dig deeper into the key elements that made it successful. These are critical considerations if we consider expanding or replicating the model for other populations. A number of features were mentioned as essential by youth, staff, the founders and other stakeholders, which are consistent with youth perspectives on program strengths, as summarized below.
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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.