Research Matters Blog

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
May 05, 2015

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and The Home Depot Canada Foundation are thrilled to launch two toolkits aimed at supporting communities working with homeless and at-risk youth. The first looks at transitional housing initiatives for homeless youth using both on- and off-site models of housing. It features the great work being done by Covenant House Toronto and Covenant House Vancouver. The second toolkit examines an innovative youth employment program in St. John’s Newfoundland called Train for Trades. Part of Choices for Youth, this initiative merges green retrofitting, intensive case management and employment training in a successful endeavour.

The Eva’s Initiatives Toolkit guide defines a toolkit as “a curated resource that provides relevant information that can guide users to replicate promising practices and emerging practices. When we use the term curated, we are referring to the process of analysing resources and determining what content is the most relevant and clearest on a specific topic and presenting it in an accessible and meaningful way. A toolkit contains the instructions (program manual) and tools (e.g. logic model/theory of change, workshop designs, policy and procedures, program evaluation) to build the program. Most toolkits are online resources, but may also include modules for offline delivery and use.”

Using Eva’s definition, let’s look at our toolkits. Both toolkits included extensive research and interviews with staff, partners and current and past youth participants in the programs. With both the videos and the written content we have curated the research and resources to provide you with the most important and most relevant material. In fact, we have condensed 17 hours of interviews into about 30-35 short summary videos.

Each toolkit includes both a PDF and online version. The written content is supported by the videos which cover a wide variety of topics and present the information in an engaging format.

Our goal with both of the toolkits is to make replication and adaptation easier. The resources and comprehensive descriptions can allow an agency in Saskatoon to replicate Train for Trades without ever travelling to St. John’s. Similarly, the Vancouver’s transitional housing program could be duplicated in Moncton.  When funding permits the lessons learned in face-to-face meetings are invaluable, but the current climate makes this kind of learning more challenging. As such, we feel we have created a tool that allows agencies to gain a full understanding of such promising practices. 

Youth Transitional Housing ToolkitYouth Transitional Housing Toolkit

As we’ve pointed out in past research on youth homelessness, including our reports: Coming of Age: Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada and A Safe and Decent Place to Live: Towards a Housing First Framework for Youth, there is often a developmental gap in the ability of young people to live independently. As such, transitional housing helps youth gain the life skills and knowledge they need to live on their own with minimal or no support.

Each of the 21 Covenant House locations in North, Central and South America have three core components, one of which is their Rights of Passage (ROP) transitional housing program. Each agency can develop a program to suit the needs and climate of their community and the differences between Toronto and Vancouver’s ROP programs showcase this flexibility.

Both agencies’ transitional housing programs are considered promising practices that follow the Foyer model’s Hub and Spoke component with services provided both at a fixed site (the ROP Program is the Hub) and also through scattered site housing options (these are the Spokes). The agencies have built relationships with private landlords and have also developed unique partnerships with private companies (Hollyburn Properties in Toronto and Vancouver and Daniels Corporation in Toronto) to provide youth with independent living options. 

Both ROP programs provide a young person housing in a private room with access to a kitchen, 24-7 staff, meal programs and life skills training. While there are differences between them, what we like about both programs is that they are very youth-driven and youth-focused. Staff and youth work together to develop a case plan that includes employment or education day plans (or support activities for a youth with mental health or addictions issues), learning goals and plans for future independence.

We begin the toolkit with an overview of youth homelessness to provide an overall summary and statistical information. We then move into an overview of Covenant House at the international level as well as in Toronto and Vancouver. Next we look at transitional housing generally and the Foyer’s Hub and Spoke model more specifically.

This is followed by a discussion of Transitional Housing at Covenant House including the Rights of Passage program and the various Scattered Site Transitional Housing Options. This includes a detailed look at the rules and program elements of Rights of Passage.

Finally we look at some of the logistics that would be important to an agency setting up this kind of program including staffing, funding, evaluation, policies and procedures, theories to support the work and Covenant House Toronto’s Mentorship Program. 

Youth Employment ToolkitYouth Employment Toolkit

Train for Trades (T4T) is just one of many interesting programs at Choices for Youth in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It provides at-risk youth an opportunity to give back and engage in meaningful work. The program also showcases the strength of community partnerships.

Youth receive training from the Carpenters Millwrights College in a variety of safety areas including Fall Protection, First Aid and Ramset gun use. Youth then work in construction doing green retrofitting of basements in houses owned by Newfoundland Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC). By improving energy efficiency, the youth are contributing to lower heating costs for these social housing tenants.

As youth gain skills, they can also engage in other work. Choices has a new contract with NLHC to completely rebuild the interiors and exteriors of houses including roofs, siding, floors, walls. Additionally, they take on private work that ranges from a garage to a barn, from installing bathrooms for the St. John’s Friendship Centre to building new units of affordable housing for Choices.

More than just an employment program though, T4T is also a support program. It hires high risk youth who face barriers to traditional employment. These youth receive intensive case management supports from support workers. A retired teacher comes to the building site twice a week to assist the youth in obtaining their GED.

Train for Trades is a social enterprise and as such is aimed at becoming completely sustainable. Within a couple of years it will be self-funding and will require no government or corporate grants to support its operations.

We begin this toolkit with an overview of youth homelessness and youth employment, as well as backgrounders on social enterprise, energy poverty and employment insurance.

We then move into an overview and history of Choices for Youth. This is followed by a thorough discussion of the Train for Trades program including history, program and support elements, partners, funding and evaluation.

For more on the toolkits see our upcoming blog posts from Choices for Youth, Covenant House Vancouver, Covenant House Toronto. 


Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub: York University
May 01, 2015
Categories: Ask the Hub

This question came from Jackie via our latest website survey.

While most homelessness is a one-time event caused by a variety of complex and interrelated factors, many studies have found that housing and other “adverse events” play a critical role in child development and have highlighted family homelessness as a very serious issue.

Shift statistics on homeless mothers and violence

Aratani’s 2009 report found that children with experiences of homelessness exhibit more mental health and behavioural issues, and do poorer in school. Furthermore, “children who have been exposed to violence and/or trauma display increased aggression, depression, anxiety, symptoms of PTSD and general mental health difficulties.” As the writers of “Permanent Supportive Housing for Families with Multiple Needs” stated: “Unfortunately, many of the associated outcomes of housing instability for children, including brain development and school performance produce the risk factors for homelessness later in life, therefore contributing to multigenerational homelessness.” 

Multigenerational homelessness is not easy to trace or quantify, and as such, there’s no single set of statistics for me to give you; but here are a few findings from some existing research:

  • One 1997 study on homelessness in families headed by women found that 14.2% of respondents had a female caretaker who had been homeless, and 10.3% had a primary male caretaker who was homeless — though neither was identified as an “independent factor.” (Foster care and drug use, however, were.)

  • Koegel et al.’s 1995 study on childhood risk factors for homelessness found that of participating adults experiencing homelessness: 40% reported some form of housing problem or disruption during childhood. (13% lived in public or subsidized housing, 17% lived in crowded homes, 5% were evicted, 3% experienced homelessness with their families, and 17% reported homeless/ runaway experiences during childhood.)

  • In the tri-annual Wilder Surveys on homelessness in Minnesota, 34% of surveyed homeless parents had themselves experienced homelessness as a child – up from 25% in 2006.

  • Chamberlain and Johnson identified youth homelessness as a primary pathway into adult homelessness – what they call the “youth to adult” stream ­– which affected 35% of adults experiencing homeless in their study. Of this 35%, 85% experienced long-term homelessness.

Beyond just homelessness

What much of the research concludes is that it is not necessarily homelessness itself that causes future homelessness, but the factors that cause homelessness in the first place – a combination of poverty, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse issues, etc. Family and partner conflict and/or violence is also often a factor, as shown in the infographic from SHIFT (right). 

A study by Shinn et al. on shelter use in New York City found a variety of individual factors contributed to requests for shelter use, including childhood “disruptions” (like being in foster care), but no one factor type was more prominent than others. The researchers also found that access to subsidized housing was the only common factor among the 75% of families who were eventually stably housed. 

80% of respondents in Baker Collins’ study stated that what happened to them as children led to their chronic homelessness, and 75% had been physically and/or sexually abused. 40% spent time in foster care, group homes, or custody; and another 40% said they were sent away from home. 

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.

Photo credit: SHIFT study

Fair Change Community Services
April 30, 2015

There are 2 documents that can give us the answer. The first was published by the Government of Ontario, and it can be found here: (POA Consultation Paper)

The Second is a Study published by professors from Guelph and York University and it can be found here: (Can I See Your ID? The Policing of Youth Homelessness in Toronto).

The POA Consultation Paper tells us that there are approximately 1,650,000 Provincial Offence Act Charges (POA Charges) laid per year.

Thanks to the 2011 study we know that in 2011 there were 15,324 Safe Streets Act (SSA) charges laid. The study indicated that the number of SSA charges was increasing every year – but for the sake of argument lets estimate that the charges stayed steady at 2011 levels.

MATH TIME: (15324/1650000)*100 = 0.93% or about 1%

About 1% of all Provincial Offence Charges are Safe Streets Act Charges

POA Consultation Paper tells us that about one quarter of all POA Charges are laid in Toronto and that Toronto POA Court Costs about $50 million dollars per year to run. This accounts for the buildings, the prosecutors and the administration staff. If we assume that Toronto is being about as fiscally responsible as the other cities in the Province we can estimate that POA Court costs the Province of Ontario $200 million per year.

MATH TIME: 1% of $200,000,000 = $2,000,000.

The Ontario Safe Streets Act Costs Ontario $2 Million per year

2 million dollars per year – and what are we getting for our money? With other POA Charges, like speeding, the cost is recouped when people pay their tickets. But SSA Tickets are Only given out to people who are on the street begging for money. The study shows that less than 1% of SSA tickets are ever paid, so almost none of that money is being recouped.

Time to put an end to this wasteful law!

Safe Streets Act Stats

Reprinted with permission from Fair Change Community Services.

York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub
April 29, 2015

Homeless youth, and youth living in other critical housing situations are much more likely to be using illicit drugs compared to other youth. There is a tendency to attribute such discrepancies to stereotypes about homeless individuals, rather than considering how homelessness itself affects drug use. The infographic below, published by the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research, explores alcohol and drug use among youth in street-based settings in Victoria B.C. Data is drawn from the experiences of street-involved youth, aged 15-24, who were recruited from local shelter programs to complete a study.

Young people living in critical housing situations face stressors that most youth are not forced to deal with. For example, when young people are homeless, the stress associated with finding a safe shelter to sleep and rest every night is overwhelming. Difficulties in accessing nutritional food, exposure to physical and sexual violence, and the chronic stigma associated with being homeless may contribute to the use of coping mechanisms. Substances may be used for many other reasons, such as social inclusion, for recreation and for pleasure.

Some readers may feel that the Victoria BC sample may not be representative of street-involved youth in other areas of Canada. However, upon comparison with the Youth Pathways Project Study, which was conducted in Toronto from 2005-2006, there are some striking similarities for drug use. For example:

In the Victoria study

In the YPP study

  • 88% of youth surveyed reported using marijuana in the past 30 days
  • 82% reported using tobacco
  • 33% reported cocaine use
  • 23% reported using amphetamines
  • 73% of youth reported using marijuana in the past 30 days
  • 91% reported using tobacco
  • 24% reported cocaine use
  • 16% reported using amphetamines

These figures suggest strong commonalities exist when it comes to drug use among street-involved youth across Canada.

Research has shown that homelessness is an independent predictor of injection drug use among street-involved youth. Peer substance abuse and homelessness have also been shown to predict substance abuse from adolescence through early adulthood. Substance abuse produces poor health outcomes for youth, and depending on the methods used to consume a drug, it can also lead to infection and disease.  For some youth, substance abuse leads to addiction, sexual exploitation, and even criminal behaviour related to the drug trade. Accordingly, interventions that focus on housing supports for youth can reduce drug use, which in turn leads to improved physical health and well-being.

However, drug use is only one indicator of health and well-being among street-involved and homeless youth. A large body of research has documented that homeless youth are highly disadvantaged compared to youth in the general population across a wide range of health outcomes. As it currently stands, there tend to be few available interventions available for street-involved youth. Unfortunately, a lack of service availability and accessibility for these youth directly worsens their health and contributes to chronic homelessness.

Alcohol & Drug Use Among Youth in Street-Based Settings in Victoria, BC

April 27, 2015
Categories: Topics

While Canada has universal health care, there are still many barriers preventing homeless individuals and families from accessing health services. The lack of identification – particularly their health ID card – is often cited as the biggest barrier to obtaining health care for people experiencing homelessness. Another significant barrier is following up on prescriptions (due to lack of insurance benefits or inability to pay the co-payment) or ongoing medical “home treatment” (such as sitz baths, bedrest or wound care).

Other barriers to adequate health care faced by people experiencing homelessness include the daily struggle for the essentials of life. A reliance on drop-ins and shelters for meals does not provide a nutritionally balanced or adequate diet. Living situations (i.e. sleeping outside, squats or crowded shelter) often result in increased disease transmittal. Many shelters require people to leave during the day preventing someone from obtaining needed rest. 

Homeless women and men do not  have ‘different’ illnesses than the  general population.  However, their  living circumstances and poverty affect their ability to cope with health problems.Homeless people as a group die younger than housed people and many suffer from more frequent severe illnesses and at an earlier age. For example, the 2011 Winnipeg Street Health report found that compared to the general population, homeless people in their survey were:

  • 20 times as likely to have hepatitis C
  • 8 times as likely to have epilepsy 
  • 3 times as likely to have had a heart attack
  • 6 times as likely to have angina
  • 2 times as likely to have asthma
  • 2 times as likely to have arthritis or rheumatism 
  • 3 times as likely to have diabetes
  • 10 times as likely to have FAS/FAE 
  • 5 times as likely to have migraine headaches 

These numbers echo an earlier report from Toronto’s Street Health which in 2007 found that the homeless people they interviewed were:

  • 29 times as likely to have hepatitis C
  • 20 times as likely to have epilepsy
  • 5 times as likely to have heart disease
  • 4 times as likely to have cancer 
  • 3 1⁄2 times as likely to have asthma
  • 3 times as likely to have arthritis or rheumatism
  • Twice as likely to have diabetes 

In terms of public mental heath care in Canada, there are three different types of care. Primary mental health care (first-line services) includes simple diagnostic procedures, basic treatment and referral to more specialized services as needed. Secondary care consists of specialized care that provides more extensive and complicated procedures and treatment. It may be provided within hospitals, clinics or office-based practices, on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Tertiary care is a set of specialized interventions delivered by highly trained professionals to help individuals with problems that are particularly complex and difficult to treat in primary or secondary settings. 


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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.