Just when I think I've got a debate resolved in my head, new research comes along and makes me think again. I'd like to put a question to blog readers... Last year, I wrote
Last year, I wrote a policy paper on the Housing First model of rapid rehousing of the homeless.
In the paper, I argue that the Housing First model, unlike the "treatment first" model, does not require homeless people to go through a transition to "housing readiness" (i.e. learning money-management skills, learning life skills, following the treatment plan of a psychiatrist, etc.). Instead, the Housing First approach provides homeless persons with almost immediate access to permanent housing.
In the paper, I also argue that the academic literature on Housing First is very positive, demonstrating that Housing First appears to work very well for up to 90 percent of people it tries to house.
Moreover, I argue in the paper that in just a one-year span in the lead-up to the publication of my paper, staff from Toronto's Housing First program (known as "Streets to Homes," or S2H for short) had travelled to 23 different Canadian cities to discuss the program with local officials.
Furthermore, Regina, Ottawa, Grand Prairie, Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton had all sent contingents of staff to Toronto to learn from S2H officials.
Finally, Lethbridge, Sudbury, Ottawa and London already have Housing First programs in place, and Edmonton and Victoria expected to have Housing Fierst programs in place in the very near future.
In short, while homelessness policy wonks had spent decades debating whether homeless persons could in fact be housed, the debate now appears to be over. Indeed, it now seems rather clear to most that, provided there's a suitable affordable housing unit for the person to go to (and that is not always the case in Housing First programs, as I argue in Section 5.2 of my paper), we now accept that the problem of homelessness can best be solved by providing housing to the homeless as quickly as possible.
No more policy conundrum, right?
Enter a new report that I recently discovered while perusing the Homeless Hub. In said report, four researchers (Adam Fair, Hollis Moore, Jennifer Robson and Barb Gosse) report on results from the Independent Living Account (ILA) project of Social Enterprise Development Innovations (SEDI). According to the report, ILA assists "residents of Toronto shelter system to save, build life skills and subsequently move into their own place."
According to the new report
"The ILA model was designed to test the effectiveness of matched saving incentives in supporting individuals living in the shelter system to save for expenses related to moving out on their own. Participants enrolled in the ILA are provided with assistance to open a bank account and start saving. To incentivize this saving, SEDI offered a virtual $3 in match credits for each $1 saved, up to a maximum personal savings of $400. Participants are also required to work with a case manager on a savings plan and attend a financial literacy workshop which lasts approximately 12 hours. If a participant meets all of the program requirements they are eligible to use their credits, combined with their own savings, to pay for first and last month’s rent, utility hook up, moving expenses as well as supports to employment."
The report goes on to say
"The results suggest a conservative estimate of a $2.19 return for each $1 of project costs within the first year following project graduation. It is also worth noting that the analysis of the base case (existing environment) estimates a negative return of nearly -$0.74 for each $1 invested in the current system of support for those moving through the housing continuum to exit homelessness. This result clearly illustrates the investment potential created by the ILA model."
While I don't see a direct contradiction between Housing First and the ILA approach, I do see an inconsistency.
I believe it was Confucius who said "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."
Housing First says:
- give homeless persons keys to housing unit ASAP; and
- have Housing First staff work with the person's income support office to cut out the bureaucratic red tape so that the person can move right into housing ASAP. In other words: give the man the fish and, no disrespect intended to Confucius, but he'll keep fishin'.
The ILA approach says:
- teach the homeless person financial literacy skills with some matching funds/incentives; and
- when they put aside sufficient money, they can move into a new unit. In other words, teach the man to fish.
So, my question for blog readers is: how do we reconcile the successes of Housing First with the successes of the ILA project?
Nick Falvo is a doctoral candidate at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration and teaches a course on affordable housing and homelessness in Carleton’s School of Social Work. His research interests include poverty, affordable housing, social assistance, homelessness and post-secondary education policy.
Under the supervision of Dr. Frances Abele, he is currently involved in two SSHRC-funded research projects looking at
affordable housing in Canada’s North. And his doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Dr. Saul Schwartz, consists of three essays on social assistance.
Nick is a frequent
blogger and op-ed writer, a steering committee member of the
Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) and the PEF Events Coordinator for the Annual Conference of the Canadian Economics Association.
Prior to his doctoral studies, Nick was a
Parliamentary Intern in Ottawa, and then worked for 10 years as a community social worker with homeless persons in Toronto.
Contact him at