Research Matters Blog

A Way Home Canada and MaRS Centre for Impact Investing
September 19, 2018

In 2017, we were proud to launch the “Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab” project with funding support from the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy. Though Making the Shift is led by a partnership between A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, our community partners are key. It was a dynamic year of co-creating solutions to youth homelessness alongside youth-serving organizations in ten Canadian communities. Year One of MtS has come to a close, and we’re pleased to share our newly released “Making the Shift Year One Report.” At the same time, we want to showcase a key deliverable for Phase One of Making the Shift, which is an important piece of work led by our friends at MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. “Funding Services for Homeless Youth in Canada: Review and Recommendations” takes a critical look at how we currently fund youth homelessness interventions and then makes some recommendations for how we might do it differently and more effectively.

Phase One of MtS (2017-2019) involves the implementation of three demonstration projects at twelve sites across Ontario and Alberta. These large-scale demonstration projects seek to build practical knowledge and an evidence base for the following interventions focused on prevention and sustained exits from homelessness.

  1. Housing First for Youth (Ottawa, Toronto), Housing First for Indigenous Youth, Indigenous led (Hamilton)
  2. Enhancing Family and Natural Supports (Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Toronto)
  3. Youth Reconnect (Hamilton)

Most importantly, these demonstration projects provide critical services that will help ensure the best possible outcomes for young people and their families. All three interventions are designed to enhance housing stability, well-being and social inclusion, and thereby increase the engagement of young people in education, training and/or employment. As we build an evidence base on the effectiveness of these interventions, we must also think about the sustainability and scaling of this work, which requires us to ask some key questions of the role and approach of funders (government and philanthropy).

I’ve invited Duncan Farthing-Nichol from MaRS to share some of the key recommendations from the “Funding Services for Homeless Youth in Canada” report.

Thanks, Melanie. We at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing have learned a lot over the last year. We’ve interviewed homelessness experts and funders to find out more about how governments pay for homeless youth services today and how they might fund those services in the future. We’ve heard about empowering communities to decide their priorities while strengthening their ability to deliver. We’ve heard about gathering consistent data, emphasizing prevention, shifting dollars to focus on results and coordinating funding across government departments.

We drew a few recommendations from our research. First, federal and provincial governments that fund pilot programs should mandate strong evaluation designs to learn as much as possible about what programs work, for whom and under what conditions. For youth especially, communities often lack the detailed program evidence that allows a sophisticated response.

Second, federal and provincial governments should weigh tying a small portion of community-level homelessness funding to community-level results. A small amount paid on results could channel communities toward the federal or provincial government’s goals without micromanaging on-the-ground delivery. Any scheme to tie money to results must be made in close partnership with communities. The scheme must also adapt over time.

Third and last, federal and (especially) provincial governments should test cross-departmental funds to pay for homeless youth programs. Homelessness’ causes and consequences reach across departmental boundaries, yet departments not directly responsible for homelessness often shy away from taking part in homelessness programs. By paying for programs based on results - by paying, for example, on the number of youth who graduate from high school - a cross-departmental fund might attract interest from departments keen on those results. Paying for results clarifies how ending youth homelessness can help many departments realize their aims.

Back to you, Melanie.

MtS is providing leadership in helping communities and governments move away from band-aid solutions to youth homelessness through an investment in the development and testing of effective strategies to prevent youth homelessness and to help those who are experiencing homelessness to move out of it quickly and in a sustainable way. In partnership with MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, Making the Shift is also providing cost modelling and practical recommendations for how we can more effectively fund this important work. Over the next year we will continue to support program implementation and ongoing service delivery, as well as conducting rigorous research and evaluation and sharing findings as they emerge. For Phase Two of Making the Shift (Spring 2019 and beyond), we will build new partnerships that will contribute to the long-term sustainability of these interventions, while continuing to support our Phase One partners to provide critical services to young people and their families. We will also conduct additional research and evaluation of other interventions in the areas of prevention and sustained exits from homelessness. Our ongoing work with research, evaluation, program delivery, and cost modelling will continue to inform our policy and investment recommendations, as well as provide all Canadian communities with the practical tools (resources, training and technical assistance, etc.) they need to “Make the Shift.”

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
September 18, 2018

Are you working in the homelessness sector and in need of program evaluation support? We’ve got an exciting update for you! 

Hub Solutions is a social enterprise nestled within the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness that provides research, evaluation and design services to organizations working to end homelessness. As part of our mandate, and recognizing that preventing and ending homelessness is a shared effort, we are looking for new ways to support the sector. This is why we are excited to announce that we are giving away a FREE evaluation consultation!

What are we talking about?

This is a unique opportunity to win a free evaluation consultation from Hub Solutions! It’s also an opportunity for us to reflect and check in with our stakeholders (you!) and the homelessness sector to learn about your needs and how we can work together to prevent and end homelessness in Canada.  

Who can apply for the FREE evaluation consultation giveaway?

  • Organizations based in Canada who are working to end homelessness. If you have multiple programs to submit, you can even have multiple submissions. 
  • Small agencies, organizations and collectives who are doing really great work, but don’t always have the time to dedicate their efforts to evaluation or sustainability. 

Is this FREE evaluation consultation for you? 

Is your initiative making magic happen in the community? Do you need support showing how your initiative shines for that future funding proposal, community check-in or an upcoming AGM? Do you need support figuring out your initiative’s pain points and how you can do better? 

If yes, then we would say this opportunity is for you! 

If I get picked, what happens next? 

We’ll let you know if you’ve won by December 2018 and intend to hit the ground running by January 2019. We’ll schedule a kick off meeting with our team and your team for January, where we’ll figure out the nitty gritty of your project, schedules, timelines, and all that other fun stuff. From there, the Hub Solutions team will go and do their magic! 

Ready to take the plunge? Fill out this short 15 minute application and enter to win!

If you’re still not sure, check out more information here. You can always shoot John Ecker (our Director of Research & Evaluation) a message with your questions as well, and we’d be happy to answer them! 

Need a hand today? The Hub Solutions team is still around to meet your evaluation needs! Contact us today! 

Raising the Roof
September 13, 2018

This blog post is part of our series which highlights sessions of the 2018 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Hear Jenny Lam speak on Monday, November 5th at 1:30 PM. Learn more about this upcoming conference presented by CAEH. 


As Talley and Timmer eloquently put it, “If we intend to address homelessness, we must not allow ourselves to mistake another problem – the creation of a dependent and controlled client population in the shelter system – for the solution.” According to the literature on homelessness, the current response to homelessness heavily relies on the provision of emergency services, such as shelters, day programs, and soup kitchens. In recent years, however, there has been a shift towards thinking about the prevention of homelessness. 

Homelessness prevention is not only humane, it is also cost-effective. Studies have found that individuals who are experiencing homelessness typically have higher levels of healthcare usage, and consequently incur higher healthcare costs. Additionally, approximately $350,000 can be saved within the criminal justice system each time an individual is prevented from being homeless.

Evidence undoubtedly exists to support the argument for preventing rather than responding to homelessness. However, is academic evidence enough to promote this widespread shift towards prevention? In an attempt to answer this question, I turn to shelter staff – those directly working in shelters and operating on the opposite end of the prevention spectrum – to understand their views on shelters and its role in addressing homelessness. 

At this year’s CAEH conference, I will present the results of this qualitative research project, which explores frontline shelter staff’s perspectives on the use of shelters – an emergency response – as a strategy in addressing homelessness. This qualitative study was conducted with 13 frontline shelter staff working in adult shelters across Toronto, Canada. 

This session will be of most interest to the frontline staff, as well as other professionals in the homelessness sector who are working to prevent homelessness. This research illustrates that the efforts to prevent homelessness does not exclude those working in emergency response roles. Overall, findings from this study will inform homelessness prevention stakeholders on the steps needed to promote a cross-sectoral shift towards prevention. 

To learn more about this study, please attend this session within the COH stream. I am very excited to be taking part in this conference for the first time as both an attendee and a presenter, and I look forward to seeing everyone there!

Calgary Homeless Foundation
September 11, 2018

With limited resources at their disposal, System Planners—such as the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF)—like to know how long various subgroups of persons experiencing homelessness will likely require various forms of housing support. With this in mind, Ali Jadidzadeh and I have co-authored a study that appears in Housing Studies—a leading housing journal. Titled Patterns of exits from housing in a homelessness system of care: The case of Calgary, Alberta, the study looks at the case of CHF-funded Housing First programs.

Here are 10 things to know:

  1. The study uses survival analysis and hazard models. To quote from the study: “[S]urvival analysis tells us when we can expect new housing units to become available for new tenants, and which programme types will have available units more quickly… [while] hazard analysis can tell us which tenants will be most likely to graduate, based on the individual characteristics of those tenants” (p. 7).
  2. The data in the study comes from Calgary’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS). Gathered between 1 April, 2012 and 31 March, 2015, the data pertain to people residing in Housing First programs funded by CHF. Thousands of people were involved in this data collection effort, including: persons living in Housing First programs who signed release of information forms; staff in Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care who inputted the data; CHF staff who provided training and support to community on how to use HMIS; as well as CHF staff who then cleaned the data. The data in question were gathered on each person residing in Housing First every three months. An intake form was first completed by a case manager at intake into the program; then, another assessment form got completed every three months. There was also a form completed at exit from the program. These forms ask basic demographic information, as well as information about education, income, employment, history of family violence, use of health services and involvement in corrections. Most of the data gathered is based on self-reporting by an experienced case manager who receives accreditation. Blank copies of these forms can be accessed here.
  3. Key to the study is a concept known as graduation. Alberta’s provincial government provides homelessness funding to System Planners (such as CHF). To quote directly from the study: “In line with provincial programme guidelines in place during the period under consideration in the present study, a client is said to graduate from CHF-funded housing when they no longer require ‘housing support’ (i.e. case management). And in the case of temporary housing funded by CHF, a client is said to graduate once they complete programme requirements and move into a more permanent form of housing—either subsidized or unsubsidized…” (p. 3). [Note: subsequent to the period of study, the definition of graduation has changed for Calgary.] For a recent academic consideration of graduation, see this 2018 article.
  4. One of the study’s findings is that single adults without dependents require housing support longest, and families for the least amount of time. Put differently: single adults without dependents who have recently been homeless require social work (also referred to 'case management') support longer than other groups. I suspect a few factors may be at play here. First, single adults without dependents sometimes don’t have dependents because their children have been taken into child protection (possibly stemming from the parent’s challenges with mental health and/or substance use). It’s therefore intuitive that a person with such challenges would require social work support for a longer period of time. Also, in Alberta, singles without dependents receive less income assistance than other groups, making it more challenging to live independently (I encourage people to read the poverty chapter in this year’s Alberta Alternative Budget, which argues that the poverty gap for singles without dependents is much larger than for other groups).
  5. Women require social work support for longer periods than men (even when we control for employment and income). In fact, the study finds that men are 32% more likely to graduate than women. As noted in the study: “One possible reason for this is that women experiencing homelessness often find themselves in relationships with people who in turn jeopardize their housing stability…” (p. 20).
  6. Having a history of addictions does not appear to affect a client’s graduation rate. This is consistent with findings from the At Home/Chez Soi study, which found that formerly-homeless persons who consume large amounts drugs and/or alcohol maintain housing about as well as other formerly-homeless persons. This reaffirms the importance of the Housing First approach, which holds that a person should not have to go to a drug or alcohol treatment program as a precondition to receiving permanent housing.
  7. Older clients have lower graduation rates (meaning that it takes longer for them to move on to independence). Put differently: older people who have recently been homeless require social work support longer than other groups. The study notes: “Older clients having lower graduation rates should also not be surprising to many readers, as the health outcomes of seniors are poorer than those of younger clients” (p. 21). This is an especially important finding for System Planners across Canada, as older adults are making up an increasingly large share of the homeless population. In Calgary’s homeless shelter system, adults aged 55 and over, in 2017, accounted for 19% of bed spaces on any given night; in 2008, they accounted for just 9% of all bed spaces. These figures apply to single adults without dependents. This trend will likely continue for at least another decade or two.
  8. Findings pertaining to Indigenous peoples have already had ramifications on the ground. Indeed, the study finds that Indigenous peoples in the study needed support longer than non-Indigenous peoples. This holds even after controlling for income, education, and a history of family violence. Future research is needed that looks at factors that inhibit success among Indigenous peoples in Housing First [Note: Some research has already been undertaken on this in Edmonton. Check out this 2011 report  and this 23-minute video]. These findings have also informed CHF’s engagement strategies with Indigenous peoples, including CHF”s hiring of an Indigenous advisor (since promoted to Director), a business case for two supportive housing buildings for Indigenous peoples (not yet funded) and future Indigenous-focused research.
  9. The study finds that having a source of income is positively correlated with graduation rates (i.e., it speeds up the move toward independence)—and this has already led to several changes in Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care. This finding has helped inform an effort by CHF to identify, in collaboration with community partners, specific individuals in CHF-funded Housing First programs who, with some additional (short term) financial support, could likely graduate. This particular effort has been taking place for roughly one year; thus far, it has involved approximately 170 individuals with considerable success. The additional financial assistance provided varies by individual and is not intended to be permanent.
  10. In Calgary’s family homelessness sector, the study’s finding pertaining to income has led to the development of a new Adaptive Case Management (ACM) approach. ACM has a strong focus on providing short-term financial assistance to households in need (and it is discussed in detail in our Family System Planning Framework).

In Sum. This study finds that some groups move on from Housing First programs more quickly than others, and that some factors (such as a source of income) appear to accelerate graduation from Housing First. Because CHF embeds research into its day-to-day operations, we were well-positioned to start acting on findings well before the research was published.

For assistance with this blog post, I wish to thank Tim Aubry, Carla Babiuk, Victoria Ballance, Candice Giammarino, Ali Jadidzadeh (who also spent many hours cleaning this data so that if can be used for analysis by several stakeholders), Stephen Metraux, Shane Rempel and one anonymous source. Any errors are mine.

For a full copy of the article, please email me.

Western University
September 06, 2018

In this bi-weekly blog series, I explore recent research on homelessness, and what it means for the provision of services to prevent or end homelessness. Read the first blog here


Peer support has been used across various sectors for decades. For example, within health care in general, there exist very clear definitions and models of peer support. Within HIV care in particular, there are national standards of peer support drawing on two decades of research. While the inclusion of lived experience in homelessness services, planning, and policy-making has increased significantly over the past several years, peer support in the sector still exists primarily in small pockets of expertise. There is a need to translate the inclusion of peers and best practices in the engagement of lived experience across the sector as a whole.

To do this effectively, one important element is to understand how peer support actually works. That is, what is the mechanism of change behind peer support? What are the important elements of a peer support program? What are the predicated outcomes of peer support programs?

To begin to answer these questions, Stephanie Barker, Nick Maguire, Felicity Bishop and Lusia Stopa conducted a study with 20 peers and 20 professionals to identify a common viewpoint on the effective elements of peer support. They started with 43 statements on peer support derived from research and experts and used a Q Sort methodology and factor analysis to determine consensus agreement with the statements. The researchers looked at results from peers and professionals both separately and combined to note common and differing opinions across the two groups.

Peers and professionals agreed on the following elements of peer support:

  • Effective peer support involves peers developing trust with clients (and respecting confidentiality)
  • Peers need their own support through supervision
  • Peers provide emotional support, social support, and empathy (through listening)
  • Peer support isn’t helpful if it’s driven by the need to repay a debt
  • Peers don’t need to be experts in local service options
  • Peers need to manage their emotions and have support to cope with their own struggles

Training of peer supporters was highlighted, but it was clearly distinguished that this training is related to the peer role and to assist the peer in maintaining their own wellbeing, rather than specific training in mental health or addiction counselling. The professionals in particular identified the value of peer supporters being active in their own recovery.

Ultimately, this research found that significant potential exists in peer supporters being role models. While this contains a risk of peer supporters overall as opposed to model struggles, a good network of supervision and support for the supporters can mitigate this risk. This lays the foundation of a peer support model that is intentional and unidirectional, meaning that the peer supporter provides mentorship to those still living the experience of homelessness.

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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.