Research Matters Blog

University of Calgary
October 22, 2018

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


Health Canada recently updated the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS) which is described as a “comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate and evidence-based approach to drug policy.”  The CDSS replaces the former National Anti-drug Strategy and includes four pillars:  prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. The intent of the strategy is to help prevent problematic drug use, support innovative approaches to treatment and rehabilitation, support measures to reduce harms associated with drug use and to address illicit drug production, supply and distribution. A primary driving factor of the updated strategy is to facilitate innovative responses to the current opioid crisis. 

In Alberta in 2011, six deaths were reported related to fentanyl use. By 2016 this number had skyrocketed to 368 and by the midpoint of 2017, 246 deaths were reported. This is a 6033% increase in six years. In Alberta, “[i]n the first quarter of 2017, there were 2,402 emergency and urgent care visits related to opioids and other substances of misuse”. This is significantly more than the first quarter of 2016, when there were 1,919 emergency and urgent care visits. Emergency room visits specifically due to opioid poisoning were 57% higher in Alberta than in Ontario in 2014-2015.

The Calgary Coalition for Supervised Consumption Services (CCSC) includes 19 partner organizations including health services, police, emergency shelters and social service organizations. They formed in 2016 to develop innovative solutions to deal with this crisis. In the summer of 2017, the CCSC partnered with the University of Calgary to conduct a needs assessment towards development of supervised consumption sites (SCS) in Calgary. Funded by Alberta Health, we led a scoping review of literature to assess best practices for harm reduction interventions and administered a survey to 370 participants who are actively using drugs. The survey was designed to elicit data on participants’ health issues, housing stability, patterns of drug use, experience with overdose and needs for harm reduction and supervised consumption services.  

Preliminary results showed that most published literature is focused on the general adult population, maintenance and substitution programs and lacked innovation. Many of the sub-populations we identified (women, youth, Indigenous Peoples) were not addressed in the harm reduction literature. The lack of focus on vulnerable subpopulations indicates a need for more granularized research and underlines the challenge posed in attempting to design appropriate interventions and changes to public policy. Analysis of the survey showed that most people who experienced an opioid overdose were experiencing homelessness or housing instability and were not aware they were taking opioids nor how strong they were. 

At the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Hamilton this year, we will present the findings from both the scoping review and the survey to highlight current gaps in knowledge that limit our ability to adequately respond to the current opioid crisis in Canada.

Western University
October 18, 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


Point-in-time counts, or PITs, have been considered as one potentially valuable method for developing snapshot data to understand homelessness in local communities. The Homeless Hub provides a toolkit to facilitate accurate PIT counts. London, Ontario has taken a slightly different approach to enumeration than the standard PIT methodology. Where PIT counts are intended to reach as broad a number of participants as possible to get an accurate number of individuals experiencing homelessness in a community on a given night, London has instead chosen depth in their enumeration. Rather than short surveys with as many people as possible, London conducted in-depth surveys with 406 participants.

Here are five important lessons we can learn from London’s results:

  1. Indigenous people continue to be vastly over-represented in homelessness. This finding is important as communities have begun to make moves towards reconciliation. In London, this has included recent development of new affordable housing for Indigenous people, engagement at the municipal council level, and the beginning of an Indigenous specific community plan on ending homelessness. However, while these are important first steps, there is clearly much, much more to be done. 

  2. Child welfare is a pathway into homelessness for many. In the London data, 32% of participants had been in foster care or a group home. Researchers from McGill have identified this disturbing relationship that is a clear point where failed systems are having a downstream impact on other services. Child welfare should be an opportunity to change the story for youth with particular needs, not a pathway into homelessness.

  3. Homelessness is quite low among older adults. This is in part due to the reality that homelessness is bad for one’s health and life expectancy is statistically significantly lower for those without a home. However, it is also likely a testament to the fact that adults over 65 have access to much better income security through social assistance than younger adults. Older adults provide a natural control population that demonstrates that homelessness can be prevented through sufficient government income.

  4. Low income causes homelessness and increased income is a solution to homelessness. Following in the previous point, participants were asked to identify the cause of their housing loss and what they needed to find home. The top identified answer on both questions was income, the need for a more sufficient income. Therefore, the discussion of preventing and ending homelessness can’t be had without also addressing poverty in general.
  5. Quality of data beats quantity of data. The choice in London to focus on data quality versus an accurate snapshot of the breadth of homelessness on a given night has proven valuable. While the general public and media often seek a number of people experiencing homelessness, the deeper data instead allows for strategic decision-making around resources and activities. We don’t necessarily need a specific number to know that homelessness, and particularly chronic homelessness, are urgent issues in our community. Instead, we have data that points to some solutions to these issues.

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Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
October 16, 2018

Evaluation is one of those things where a little goes a long way. Even though it comes in all shapes and sizes, adding a little survey here, a little check in there can make all the difference. Here are our top 5 reasons why adding a little evaluation processes to your program will help take your organization to the next level.

  1. It helps you better understand your initiative! With all the hustle and bustle that goes into actually executing an initiative, evaluation is a place where you can take a pause and reflect on your accomplishments and where you would like to go. There are many different ways to reflect; an impact evaluation might focus on what outcomes or targets you achieved, whereas a process evaluation perhaps focuses more on the day to day workflow that got you there. For initiatives that have a lot of natural ebb and flow, a developmental evaluation approach works with you and takes into account the fluctuations as a natural and normal thing. Not only is getting feedback helpful in the moment, but it can also support with sustainability. Burnout and turnover is no stranger in the homelessness sector, and evaluation is a built-in initiative that can help you address those pain points and minimize these issues from the start.
  2. It can support your organization’s strategic goals. We often work for organizations that are built up of many different initiatives that are (ideally) value aligned and/or trying to achieve some lofty strategic goals. But how do you know for sure that your piece fits into the puzzle? At Hub Solutions, we love that evaluation is an accountability arm just as much as it is a tool for operational change. Something as simple as asking 1-2 questions on a survey or in an interview (or heck- even a standing agenda item) can help you and your team reorient the spirit of your initiative and correct the course, if needed. It also provides documentation for executive management to make data-informed decisions on their initiatives as a whole.
  3. It gives your funding proposals an edge. Let’s face it: Funders love data. With so many proposals going into every funding call, having an extra oomf that reaffirms your initiatives awesomeness can help it stand out in the crowd. You know your initiative is important and needed; the evaluation just helps you communicate that in a different way. To start, it doesn’t need to be a published report or a comprehensive analysis. Even just collecting a couple of stats and quotes can really go a long way. On that note, incorporating a more fleshed-out evaluation component to your proposal also helps boost your legitimacy. It shows the funders that you are serious about your sustainability, and you want to see your initiative through. If you need a hand, you can always reach out to our Hub Solutions team, and we’ll help you prep the evaluation component of your proposal for free!
  4. It helps others learn from you. As amazing as your initiative is, we know that homelessness is an issue that is not going to be solved through one program or organization. We need to work together! This means that we need to get better at sharing intel and lessons learned so we can help build each other up! It also means supporting sister initiatives who might be starting similar programs, perhaps in different geographic locations or contexts. Most of this information is already passed along through dialogue - and while connection is also very important, putting together a front-facing high level report helps that organizational connection even more. Evaluation is a powerful tool to help collect overall thoughts in one place, the struggles, tensions and lessons learned, and saves your organization time and energy if someone approaches you looking to learn more.
  5. It helps your professional development! The feedback and recommendations received during an evaluation can help organizations with their strategic planning efforts. In particular, findings from evaluations can help identify next steps in an organization's professional growth. For example, evaluations may highlight a need for enhanced  staff training or increased participation from individuals with lived experience of homelessness. Through a thorough review of your program, opportunities for organizational improvements are boundless. 

Working on something special and need a hand? You’re in luck! Hub Solutions is giving away a FREE evaluation consultation this fall! Fill out this short 15 minute application and enter to win a free evaluation consultation from our Hub Solutions team!

Need a hand today? The Hub Solutions team is still around to meet your evaluation needs! Contact our Director of Research and Evaluation, John Ecker, for more information or answers to questions on the evaluation consultation giveaway.

A Way Home Canada and A Way Home Europe
October 11, 2018

As Canadian Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the wonderful things we are thankful for at A Way Home Canada. As I’ve written about many times in the past, so much of our learning about necessary shifts in how we respond to youth homelessness in Canada come from around the world. This process of shared learning is ongoing and informs everything we do in reimagining solutions to youth homelessness through transformations in policy, planning and practice. It’s also humbling to know that our efforts with A Way Home Canada have inspired communities, states and other countries to join this international movement for change.

Guess what? Now we have an entire continent on board (Europe), with another (Australia - well, it’s both a continent and a country) poised to kick-off their A Way Home efforts in Spring 2019! So what does this all mean? It means we have additional partners to engage in shared learning about effective solutions in policy, practice and planning for preventing and ending youth homelessness. It allows us to have an even stronger collective voice to advocate with and for young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. It helps ensure youth homelessness as a fusion policy issue is on the map and can no longer be ignored. It pushes the agenda on prevention to be less of an issue of when we’ll get to it and more about how we’ll get it done.

In the coming months, we’ll be working with AWH partners from around the world to draft and build consensus on a set of shared international principles that guide the A Way Home movement for change. These principles will be grounded in the experiences and wisdom of people with lived experience of youth homelessness. They will serve to remind us of the values that drive our collective work.

A Way Home Europe is an initiative of the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA). FEANTSA brings together non-profit services that support people experiencing homelessness in Europe. FEANTSA has over 130 member organizations from 30 countries, including 28 Member States. A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness have a solid history of collaboration with FEANTSA and FEANTSA Youth. (Fun fact - one of FEANTSA’s employees/one of our favourite co-conspirators in Brussels is a Canadian -  from Edmonton no less!) Recent collaborations include the development of the THIS is Housing First for Youth Program Model Guide and the adaptation and translation of the Youth Rights, Right Now! Human Rights Guide for a number of European countries.

Media Folder: 
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“FEANTSA is proud to start disseminating the A Way Home movement in Europe. With the support of AWH Canada and other international guests from Wales and Australia, the launch in Antwerp (Belgium) last month was a success. In October, we will be launching the local coalition in Villach (Austria) and, in November, www.awayhome.eu will allow us to share our experiences within the A Way Home Europe Hub!”  - Stéphane Leclercq, A Way Home Europe Project Officer


Meet Stéphane Leclercq, a Project Officer with A Way Home Europe. He has kindly offered to explain the details of the A Way Home Europe project. Stéphane, we couldn’t be more excited to work with you on this!

Thanks, Melanie. Between April 2018 and March 2020, a European consortium between the Flemish Agency for Youth Welfare Agency (BE), Artesis Plantijn University College - AP (BE), Cachet (BE), the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless - FEANTSA (EU), the European Network of Social Authorities - ENSA (EU) and the Carinthian Government - Social Affairs and Society (AT), Diakonie (AT) is developing the “A Way Home – Europe” project on after care strategies for young care leavers. It is launching three work streams: 
  1. FOR LOCAL COALITIONS : the “A Way Home Europe (AWH)” Hub. Based on the Canadian AWH movement and the experience of European pilot cities, the AWH Europe Hub will provide resources for European cities to launch and/or support local coalitions in order to reach a collective impact by generating and implementing a plan on preventing, reducing and ending youth homelessness.
  2. FOR SERVICE PROVIDERS : the “After Care Protocol” with a toolbox and a training package. The protocol is a set of standards, measures, actions and engagements that service providers have to fulfil regarding their clients who will leave care and also during a (limited) period after they’ve left care. It describes the steps that have to be put into place for successful after care trajectories, that addresses the known gaps the youngster might occur, both in preparations for leaving care and for aftercare supports (legal conditions and quality standards).
  3. Dissemination Activities and Communication Tools.

All the information about the project activities, seminars and materials will be available on www.awayhome.eu (coming soon!)

Making the Shift, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
October 09, 2018

This blog post is part of our series which highlights sessions of the 2018 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Hear Cora MacDonald and Lauren Kimura speak on Tuesday, November 6th at 3:30 PM. Learn more about this upcoming conference presented by CAEH. 


To channel more direct involvement of people with lived experience (PWLE) in research, a growing number of projects are adopting a ‘peer research’ approach in which members of the target population participate in some or all aspects of the research process. Peer research approaches have been used for researching historically marginalized communities and issues, including HIV/AIDS, drug use, and homelessness. The benefits of meaningfully including peers in research design and delivery are vast. Peers can provide extensive “insider” knowledge about the subjectivities of those experiencing social and health issues, and can positively influence the quality and impact of research. Likewise, hiring and supporting peers in research capacities can provide them with opportunities for training and work experience, enabling the development of new skills and knowledge.

Despite clear advantages to involving peers in different aspects of the research process, consideration for the time, resources and supports required to meaningfully support peers in a safe, appropriate and ethical manner is often overlooked in the initial planning and early implementation of research programs. In the At Home/Chez Soi study, researchers and field interviewers identified time-allocation and a lack of resources as the biggest obstacles for engaging adults with lived experience of homelessness and mental illness as members of various project research teams. Researchers in a multi-method HIV community-based research study similarly found that inadequate infrastructure and support contributed to distinct challenges for peer research assistants conducting research.

In this presentation, we will share some of the challenges encountered and learning derived as research leads supporting research assistants with lived experience of homelessness working on a community-based, randomized, controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of Housing First interventions for youth experiencing homelessness.  We will review and reflect on our ongoing journey to collaboratively develop strategies to best support research assistants with lived experience of homelessness in their work and within our organization.

Since April 2017, Making the Shift – a partnership between A Way Home Canada (AWHC) and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), with the support of MaRS Centre for Impact Investing (MaRS) – has been reimagining our response to youth homelessness through social innovation. As a project within Making the Shift, the Ottawa Housing First for Youth demonstration project was launched in February 2018, the goal of the Making the Shift: Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) Demonstration Project(s) is to investigate the effects of Housing First for youth experiencing homelessness. One of the central tenets of ending homelessness and Housing First is the belief that people experiencing or with experience of homelessness should be engaged in the decisions, policies and evaluation of the programs that impact them. A s a result, priority consideration for research assistant positions was given to people with lived experience of homelessness. It became clear early in the implementation of the project that Making the Shift needed to assess how best to support PWLE in multi-method research processes.

We found that practices informed by the following attributes were the most effective for supporting peers in research capacities:

  • Flexibility/Individualization: PLWE of homelessness may have different working styles and needs than the general working public. The road to success is not a one-size-fits-all; it is important to tailor responsibilities and supports to meet staff where they are.
  • Mentorship: On-going formal and informal mentorship is vital to meaningfully supporting individuals in the field and with tasks related to the research process. Stable, dependable, and resilient mentorship and support can make all the difference.
  • Reciprocal learning: PLWE and those supporting them learn from one another. We support staff by providing context and guidance on research protocols in addition to practical skills in methods and data analysis. Researchers with lived experience provide invaluable knowledge on how to interact with, engage with, and support participants.

This sneak peak of our presentation for CAEH 2018 highlights attributes that ought to guide practical strategies for supporting people with lived experience in research capacities and beyond. We hope that our reflections and recommendations will be adapted and incorporated by others in both research and service provision.

Phase One of Making the Shift, a Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab, is funded in part by the Government of Canada's Youth Employment Strategy.

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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.