Research Matters Blog

November 23, 2015

This is an excerpt from the Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle: Implications for Policy and Practice book.

I would like to share my story, my shortcomings and strengths, my experience on the streets and what I think can be done to make change.

You just never know when or where you might be able to make a difference in someone’s life.

My journey from Nova Scotia to Ottawa was not without incident. After 18 months on the reserve, drinking a 26 oz. a day and a 40 oz. on Fridays and Saturdays, there was no way to stop drinking without a series of consequences.

So before jumping on the bus, I stopped at the liquor store for a quart of beer and a 26 oz. of whiskey. On the way out of town on the highway, where my kids lived, I said good-bye as I looked out the window. I took a deep breath and a big swig of my whiskey. I was all choked up and sad to leave them behind, but I knew they would be coming soon—their mother’s boyfriend was in the military and was being transferred to Ottawa.

Let the first leg of my journey begin  

I told my kids I was going to Ottawa to get a place and would see them there. I was looking forward to a time when I would have overnight visits with my kids again; this was my lifeline to staying focused and on track. This is what prevented me from staying on the streets forever. 

Well, it didn’t take me long to become stranded in the next province, Fredericton, New Brunswick. What I thought was going to be a quick refuel, turned out to be the end of the road for me on that bus. The bus driver checked the plastic cup I had my booze in, sensed I was under the influence and asked me to get off the bus.

I was stranded. It was cold and wet, so sleeping outside was not an option. I only had $40. A motel room was out of the question, so off to the police station I went. When I arrived I had to ring a buzzer, and after signing a release form, they gave me a blanket, a pillow and a cell for the night. I slept like a baby.

The next morning when I woke up, they told me the next bus doesn’t leave until 7pm and that there’s a men shelter a couple of streets over. I went for breakfast and hung out with the boys. I still had my big beer left so I shared it with them. It wasn’t long before we made our way to the liquor store. 

The role of homeless supports in my life

I think, for the most part, the major contributor to my ending up on the streets was the lack of addiction treatment programs available.I think, for the most part, the major contributor to my ending up on the streets was the lack of addiction treatment programs available. Any long-term treatment has a six- to eight-month minimum wait time. Shelters become an easy option with free meals and a roof over your head; and you’re close to downtown, which leaves no need for a bus pass for transportation.

Unlike ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program), people on social assistance have to pay full price for their bus pass. This comes out of a $365 shelter allowance, which leaves them with $220 for the month. In many cases, the money allocated for your bus pass is spent on housing or daily living. This leaves people helpless to get around to food banks.  

Living in the shelters pays you a PNA (Personal Needs Allowance), and in many cases that is more than you would end up with if you had your own place. Someone who has their own place would have a bunch of bills to pay, along with paying full price for their bus pass. They have little money left for food, clothing, hygiene items, etc. In having your own place, you can’t afford a phone, cable TV, laundry, clothing, etc.

With our current two-tier medical system for those who can pay and those who can’t, people on assistance do not have the coverage to pay for medications they may need. This forces people to get creative in order to get the things they need.

There are just so many ways to make money. When a good scam comes out, people ‘jump on the bandwagon,’ as they say. If someone is making good money selling their medication, it’s not long before the word gets out on how and what to say to the doctors to get what you need.

Others that need medication and can’t get it from their doctor, or who are not covered, turn to the streets. Often, street drugs are not regulated and are dangerous. These drugs can be very addictive, and it’s a slippery slope into homelessness.

No matter what kind of scam you’re into, it is likely illegal, and eventually you will get caught. Having a criminal record, like bad credit, does nothing but further put people at a loss, and makes getting a good job or an apartment almost hopeless.

Working under the table becomes a good option for those affected by past wrong doings. You get the security of having your rent covered by welfare or disability benefits, and are able to supplement your income in a more socially acceptable way. This is why handyman services are so popular.

Many people become frustrated with the system, and the only escape from the torment of reality and the stigma that we live in when we are down and out is drugs (including alcohol and prescriptions).  

It’s likely that you’ll become socially depressed. We are sad due to the way we see the world around us. It is circumstances that bring us to an emotional depression. We don’t see the help that’s around us, and we dwell on what we think we are powerless over.

The second leg of my journey: Still stranded in Fredericton

At the liquor store, my regular routine was to buy a big beer and steal a mickey. It was easy for me, being a new face in the town of Fredericton.  By the time 7pm rolled around, I was too drunk to get on the bus heading to Ottawa.

Partying is all part of that life, and I showed those boys how to have a good time. The only problem was we were all too drunk to get back into the shelter, so six or seven of us went to the police station. This time we were all charged with public intoxication, and we were put in the drunk tank with no blanket or pillow.

The next morning at the liquor store, it was evident that police already alerted them because all eyes were on me. I knew it was time to leave town, so I drank just enough of my 26 oz. of whiskey so I wasn’t sick, and off to the bus stop I headed. The boys didn’t want me to go, but Ottawa was my destination.

Finally I got on the bus without incident. I held my breath as I showed my ticket to the bus driver. I arrived in Ottawa with two big duffel bags, my knapsack, $7 in my pocket, a half bottle of whiskey and a big beer. In a short time, I polished off the bottle of whiskey. With nowhere to go again, it was off to the police station.

The police phoned ahead and secured me a bed at the local men’s shelter. There I met a whole bunch of new friends. I knew I had time to find a place before my kids moved to Ottawa, so I hung out with the boys. What I thought was going to be a short time ended up being almost four months on the streets.

For many, living on the streets or in the shelters is the end of the road; when things seem hopeless, it’s all the roadblocks that you run into that make you give up the fight and settle for survival. Survival becomes a way of life, a freedom, a comfort, where you have friends. Having your own place often leads to confinement, depression and loneliness. I envision a community-living environment where everyone works together doing laundry, cooking and cleaning. It becomes a big family; a group of people who share common interests, and can set some goals for independent living.  It’s a place where you have friends, where before you had none. We all need a home, not just housing.

But many just give up. It becomes too hard to fight the system, so you just live within in it: can’t get it, steal it, and get caught, good! Put me in jail—free meal, free drugs, a doctor, clean clothes, etc. It becomes a revolving door.

The end to my life on the streets

It was time to sober up; my kids would be coming soon, so off to detox I went. After spending seven days in detox, I went back to the shelter where I met up with one of my buddies who managed to get a place in a rooming house. I spent a couple of nights and decided this could become my way off the streets.

Soon after, I got my own room and took the position of superintendent. Becoming a superintendent supplemented my income by $150, just enough to get me through the month.   

It wasn’t long before my heavy drinking and tough guy image was challenged one too many times. I ended up with assault charges and was sent back to jail for three months. Coming out of jail with a determination to turn my life around, I got another room and a superintendent position in a quiet building. I also got on the wait list for subsidized housing. To get on an urgent list, I pretended I was still homeless and put my son on the list with me to get housing quicker.

It took three months, and even once they found out my son didn’t qualify, they still had a bachelor apartment for me. Things were looking up. I managed to get a new I.D through a community centre where I was seeing a doctor and applied for ODSP

When I moved into my new bachelor apartment, I was still addicted to alcohol. I thought I could help other street people. I would invite them into my house to shower and do their drugs, but this soon turned into a new business opportunity for me.

I was able to get off the booze but became a full-blown crack addict. Selling crack became a way of supporting my habit as well as supplementing my income. It took about six months of dealing crack to 30 or 40 people a day to catch the eyes of the law, and I was off to jail again, losing everything.

You could say I had been left in the cold. My discharge worker never did confirm housing before my release from jail.  A visit to the ODSP office left me no hope of receiving any money for shelter, food or clothing. I was released 36 pounds heavier after 107 days of confinement. I had no clothes that fit.

If not for a friend, I would be forced back to the streets. Like most people coming out of jail, I would have had to resort back to shelters, where the game never changes and you are always at ‘rock bottom’. Being forced into survival mode has its setbacks—for me, it pushed the limits on my ability to remain sober. 

I was not able to secure any financial support until 12 days after my release. All the old feelings and the high of being free came back to haunt me. When you’re left with nothing, many are forced back into the same old routine they were in before they got arrested. Unfortunately, most of the time, you’re sucked right back in the game. It’s quick, it’s an easy fix, and for some, this is the only life they know.

What I think could have made a difference

My frustration and disappointment in the system were setting in. I feel people just give up the fight. Help is scattered all over the place, with too many barriers, too many hurdles and too much red tape. Today, again forced to work within the system, I am left frustrated. I had a fire back in May 2012, and struggled to find a new place to call home.

I would like to see a facility that would have people come in one door and have everything they need under one roof—like one-stop shopping. To the left we have doctors, dentists, psychiatrists and mental health care; on the right we have addiction counsellors, personal care workers for housing, etc. So at the end, when you walk out the last door, you’re ready for a new start.

Shelters, community centres, etc., are also a lifeline, and in my opinion could be the perfect place to try this out. Funding needs to be allocated for services and facilities in order to accommodate long-term treatment programs, rather than a long-term waiting list for these services. When someone hits that ‘rock bottom,’ or finally realizes they need help, we need to have the help for them, then and there. For most it’s their last chance: if they don’t get help, they may never come out of it. 

My addictions came at a heavy cost to all those around me. But today, I can share the love that was lost for so many years. All the programs I took on addictions in the past, and writing a transcript of my book, Life in the Game of Addiction while in jail, helped turn my life around. If not for this, my time would have been wasted, and the cycle would have continued.

My hope is that people live without addictions in their life, and that others realize that people do change. Don’t judge a homeless person, because you don’t know what led them to homelessness. 

I lowered myself to the streets where I had lost everything, but learned so much. I learned that the world is not all about the riches of the flesh, but the love for life and helping the needs of one another. Living on the streets in total surrender of life’s challenges has led me to the life I live today, and to my belief system.

Life in mainstream society revolves around seeing personal wealth as success. I was a very successful general contractor for years, and then succumbed to the greed of wanting the bigger, the better and the more the merrier. My goal was to become a millionaire. But now, after all my experiences, I see wealth in love of family, friends and faith in God. I am truly blessed with ‘happy thoughts’ today.

Many times when I was on the streets, I looked at all the people going by, and thought, “You poor bastards. You’re like a bunch of robots programmed to do the same thing day in, day out, stuck in debt to greed of the materialistic world.” 

Although I had many great times on the streets, the reality is if you miss a meal, you go hungry; if your shoes are wet and worn, you suffer. The threat of violence is all around. The loss of my family is ultimately what led me to get off the streets. It was the pain—the hurt inside—that could have kept me on the streets and using until the end, like many before me who have lost their lives, or have taken their own lives. Giving up, thinking this is the end of the road, nobody cares anyway.

I am by no means perfect, and still have minor flirtations with past addictions, but today I am no longer trapped by any outside influences in my everyday life. Sometimes in life it takes the loss of everything to really appreciate what you have. 

God bless everyone for He has blessed me.

Homelessness in only one piece of my puzzle book Read more stories in the Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle: Implications for Policy and Practice book. Download it for free at:
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub: York University
November 20, 2015
Categories: Ask the Hub

As National Addictions Awareness Week 2015 draws to a close, I want to explore the topic of harm reduction – an approach to drug strategy and policy that has become near and dear to me over the past several months, and one that organizations all over the globe are asking others to commit to.

Since starting my practicum at a community health centre, I’m often asked about what I do by my family and peers. Much of what I do is rooted in harm reduction: an area that is difficult for many people to understand. I get it, it does seem odd to outsiders why I would be spending my time handing out fresh pipes, screens, syringes and more to marginalized folks using drugs. Frequently, I’m asked if I think what I’m doing “enables” people to use drugs – insinuating that harm reduction increases drug use or makes it “worse” – and just perpetuates the issue. I find these kinds of questions come from a perspective in which all drug use is labeled “bad” and in which it is my job to ensure someone stops using – and this simply isn’t what harm reduction is about.

Harm reduction in BCWhat is harm reduction?

As written in our Youth Employment Toolkit: “Harm reduction is often viewed negatively because of its link to substance use, but harm reduction approaches are used on a daily basis by the general population: hand washing, seat belts in cars, crosswalks and bike helmets.” So you can think of it as an approach that acknowledges that people do and will use drugs, and so instead focuses on limiting potential consequences.

Much like wearing a seatbelt doesn’t stop people from driving, harm reduction alone does not aim to reduce or stop drug use (though it often acts as a point of connection for people when they do decide that they want to use less). Most harm reduction services focus on providing clean and new supplies through needle distribution and exchange, supervised injection sites, street outreach, workshops, and even alcohol management programs. And it works. As Hedrich and Hartnoll wrote in their review of harm reduction interventions:

…the scientific evidence shows that harm reduction interventions are effective in terms of their stated goals, as long as they are implemented appropriately within their contextual settings; and…single interventions are far more effective when implemented together as part of a broader public health policy, including steps to facilitate healthier living and safer social environments.

Part of the bad rap harm reduction gets is this idea that it alone can address the complex issue of problematic drug use (and the often traumatic and systemic events that contribute to why some people use), which it just can’t. Harm reduction is about meeting the person where they’re at and encouraging them to change risky behaviour, not demanding that they stop using altogether.

BC Harm Reduction Strategies and Services outlines the following guiding principles for harm reduction: pragmatism (accepting that drug use has always and will likely always occur); human rights (basic dignity and respect for all); focus on harms (instead of the drug use); maximize intervention options (needing a variety of approaches); priority of immediate goals (what does the person need right now?); and drug user involvement (nothing for us without us). These principles are very important. People who use drugs are deeply stigmatized, and though not everyone who experiences homelessness uses drugs, it is a reality for many. The potential harms associated with substance use, as noted in our section on substance use, are many:

This includes pharmacological effects of the substance itself that may impair a person’s ability to safely and competently make decisions and carry out tasks that they engage in. Problematic substance use may lead to deteriorating health; accidental death; and increased chances of risky sexual behaviours. Other harms that may result from problematic use of substances include: the inability to work or stay in school, ruptured relations with family, friends and community members, and problems with the law. 

I’d like to draw some attention to the last part about legal and justice issues. The criminalization of some substances – which is unrelated to potential harm caused, if we consider the great many negative effects associated with alcohol – means that many drug users themselves are also criminalized. This punitive, no-tolerance policy on some drugs has been criticized by many, including the writers of a 2014 London School of Economics report, which asks decision-makers to finally “end the drug wars.” The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition is making similar calls for action and advocates for policy “based on evidence, human rights, social inclusion and public health.” Harm reduction is a core component of such policy, largely due to a growing evidence base of its effectiveness.

Harm reduction in Canada

One primary goal of harm reduction is to reduce the contraction of blood-borne diseases among users. A 2010 international study by Wodak and Maher concluded that “countries that have provided extensive needle and syringe programs and opioid substitution treatment appear to have averted an epidemic, stabilised or substantially reduced the prevalence of HIV among injecting drug users.” As Vineeth wrote in his infographic post on World Hepatitis Day, harm reduction approaches have also seen great success in limiting the spread of hepatitis.

In Canada, British Columbia is a leader in coordinated harm reduction services (though Toronto is also considered a hub, with harm reduction as a key part of the city’s drug strategy) and in creating promising practices. The province has two supervised injection sites, implemented the first-ever crack pipe vending machine, and developed an alcohol management program. The Insite program has contributed to many positive results reported between 2002 and 2011:

  • 0 overdoses at Insite
  • 78% decrease in new reported cases of HIV among people who inject drugs in the area
  • 55% decrease in new reported cases of hepatitis C

Furthermore since 2012:

  • 95 overdoses in the area have been reversed with naloxone
  • 42,000 referrals made from distribution sites to other services (housing, mental health, etc.)
  • 400+ admissions from Insite into onsite detox program

So while harm reduction doesn’t put a stop to problematic drug use – and no one strategy will – it certainly does save lives, reduce disease transmission, encourage coordination of services, and more. For those reasons alone, I’d say it’s more than an appropriate response.

For more information, check out:

York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub
November 18, 2015

This week’s infographic, published by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), takes a look at poverty in Canada. The CCSD is a non-profit organization that specializes in social development. The organization takes a cross-sectoral approach to the issue of social development, collaborating with government, business, and philanthropic agencies. CCSD has been in operation since 1920 and the organization has played a role in promoting Canada’s first old age pension program and employment insurance. Figures in the infographic are drawn from a 2013 Statistics Canada data table that uses income measures to measure poverty.

Poverty in Canada infographic

The infographic states that roughly 1 in 7, or 14.6%, of Canadians were living in poverty in 2013. This amounts to 4.9 million Canadians, greater than the present day population of British Columbia. Rates of poverty, nationally, vary across cities and provinces. Cities with rates of poverty above the national average include Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal. While the infographic does a great job at providing a macro-level geographical perspective, it’s important to have a discussion about what groups of people are over-represented among Canadians living in poverty.

Today, we will take a brief look at two of these groups: Aboriginal Peoples and women.

Aboriginal Peoples

The impact of colonization and widespread policies of assimilation continue to be felt by Aboriginal Peoples living in Canada today. Canadians are becoming more aware of the horrors of government-run residential schools, many of which engaged in the systematic mental and physical abuse of students. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recorded over 6,000 deaths of residential school students. The odds of a child dying in a residential school have been reported to be 1 in 25, this rate is about the same as the one for Canadians dying during the Second World War.

A recent study showed that urban Aboriginal individuals are up to eight times more likely to experience homelessness compared to non-Aboriginal urban individuals. Experiencing homelessness can expose individuals to health risks that can have a long-term impact over the course of the lifespan. Another study, conducted in Vancouver in 2008 with street-involved youth, found that Aboriginal youth were more than two and a half times more likely to be infected with HIV than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Today, there remains a lack of reliable homelessness statistics on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. 


Women are more likely to live in conditions of poverty than men. This is partially because of the role that cultural factors, in the form of gender roles, can play in determining what opportunities are available to women versus men. Women spend more time than men doing unpaid work; this includes childcare, housework and care for seniors. In order to balance their work and home responsibilities, some women have no choice but to choose employment that is precarious. These positions come with minimal control over working conditions, and tend to be part-time, seasonal, or operate on a contractual basis. The gender wage gap is another factor that contributes to increased rates of poverty among women compared to men.

Moving Forward

It is important to address the structural factors that result in poverty. While emergency services can help meet the needs of Canada’s poverty stricken population in the short-term, structural changes are needed to alleviate poverty. Knowledge mobilization can play a critical role in spreading awareness about the difficulties faced by Canadians living in poverty. Awareness can inform public opinion, and public opinion can help to influence government policy. 

November 16, 2015

This is an excerpt from the Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle: Implications for Policy and Practice book.

The Governor General Award of Canada and the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem—these are some of this country’s highest forms of recognition in the profession of policing. These are just a couple of the awards that I have gotten for my outstanding work in policing—and at great peril to myself. But the good also has come with the horrendously bad. 

After 30 years of service, I quit my profession one week before my retirement because of intrusive, violent thoughts of killing a police officer and myself while working at Headquarters. But when the healing I had hoped would follow from quitting the police force didn’t come, five years after quitting I devised a plan to die at the hands of my fellow police brothers, it would be a ‘suicide by police.’ I wanted to end the living hell of trauma, alcoholism, and homelessness!  

Below you will find some of the experiences that led to my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism, which eventually left me homeless and broken. The time line is very fragmented as my mind recalls these events in a fractured fashion.

Coffee Time

I didn’t know it then but I was experiencing physiological and psychological effects which would later manifest as PTSD.I admit it was my turn to buy coffee and doughnuts. I held out long enough and my fellow officers were right, I was chronically cheap. While I was in the coffee shop I could hear the beeping of a car horn; I turned and saw my partner waving for me to come out to the car. I knew something was up because he had the red emergency lights on. I ran and jumped into the scout car. My partner advised me that there had been a robbery near our location and that the suspect was armed with a handgun. We received information from dispatch highlighting the perpetrator’s description and clothing.

We then started patrolling, looking for his possible escape routes. I ordered my partner to stop and let me out while I patrolled on foot and he cruised the area in the squad car. The alley I picked to go down led me to a side street where I came face-to-face with the suspect. To my surprise his clothing did not match the description given to us by dispatch, but his body language gave him away. He motioned like he was going to grab a firearm from beneath his jacket. Before he could reach his weapon I beat him to the draw. I screamed, “Freeze!” He then turned and ran to the nearest house and booted in the door. It flew right open and he ran inside. 

I followed in pursuit. A strange thing happened to me then: my senses were heightened, my vision sharpened and cleared. I became almost superhuman. I ran and didn’t get winded, colours became greatly enhanced—red became ruby red and green became emerald green. My hearing became hollow and it sounded like a giant drum was over my head. All of my senses worked in concert to improve my physical performance. It was like time had slowed down and was being stretched. I didn’t know it then but I was experiencing physiological and psychological effects which would later manifest as PTSD.

I came to the front door and had my gun and sights on the suspect. I could see a gun in his hand and started to pull back on the trigger on my own gun. It felt like slow motion. Just as the hammer was about to fall, a teenage girl jumped out from one of the rooms between me and the suspect, directly in the line of fire. She had heard a commotion in her house and came to see what was causing it. Miraculously I pulled up the barrel of the gun and released the trigger pressure without firing. She never knew how close to being shot she had come. The next thing I knew my hearing had returned and I heard a loud bang. The suspect had run out the back door; the loud bang had been the screen door when it slammed.

I ran through the kitchen and kicked the screen door with my foot, and as my foot hit the ground afterward I acquired a line of sight. In an instant I could see the suspect was running in front of a cinderblock wall. In a microsecond I knew if I shot that my bullets wouldn’t hit a civilian, they would be absorbed into the wall. I fired and much to my amazement I could see my bullet scream past the armed suspect and slam against the wall. It made a small puff of dust and chipped cement. I fired off two more rounds in rapid succession and I started to see the suspect fall in slow motion. As the suspect lay on the ground, I could see pulsating crimson blood squirting onto the lawn with every beat of his heart. I approached him with my weapon trained on him for another shot and I could hear him crying out for his mother. As I continued closer I realized he was actually in the next yard. This surprised me because I felt he was in arms reach, but in fact he was approximately 18 yards away and there was a fence between us. I didn’t even see the fence and I suspect it’s because my instincts ruled it irrelevant. I quickly holstered my weapon and jumped the fence, pulled my gun and reacquired the suspect. He was chest down and I put my knee into the small of his back and started to search for the handgun, which I couldn’t find. I felt something on his back and lifted his shirt and found he was wearing a bullet proof vest. He was fortunate, the bullet had hit him in between the butt cheek and the hamstring, shattering the femur and clipping the artery. I say fortunate because he could have very easily bled to death but I performed first aid, grabbing a tea towel off a nearby clothesline and applying a tourniquet. I believe I saved his life. The incident was later timed by investigators—the whole event took approximately 30 seconds. Upon his conviction in court I found out that I had crippled him for life.

Homelessness in only one piece of my puzzle book Read the rest of this story in the Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle: Implications for Policy and Practice book. Download it for free at:
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub: York University
November 13, 2015
Categories: Ask the Hub

This question came from Nichole F. in our latest website survey.

Youth face a number of barriers when it comes to housing due to supply and availability, income, education and discrimination. As a result, many make use of transitional housing, which can be considered a “stopgap measure” between emergency housing (shelters, drop-in centres, etc.) and stable housing. For youth, transitional housing with the right supports and services can also help them move from adolescence to adulthood; and provide opportunities to build skills that can help sustain their independence.

A report by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) wrote that:

The overall objective of transitional housing is to provide people with the structure and support they need to address critical issues necessary to maintain permanent housing and maximize self-sufficiency. At minimum, it is hoped that program “graduates” will not use the emergency shelter system or become homeless again.

In the same report, case studies showed that while transitional housing is more effective than emergency services alone – and for some people there was a short-term improvement in housing status – other improvements are modest and varied. Indeed, there isn’t much research on the effectiveness of transitional housing in preventing future homelessness. Some exceptions includes the report Live, Learn, Grow, which summarizes existing research on the Foyer model of transitional housing; a study of Eva’s Phoenix, a Toronto-based program with positive outcomes, and Peel Youth Village. The long-term effectiveness of such programs remains unclear.

There are a few issues with transitional housing as a response to homelessness. In a 2007 review of housing options for Vancouver youth, Eberle Planning and Research critiqued these programs because:

“1) Transitional programs reward those who do well by requiring them to move on; and

2) They can only be effective if affordable independent housing is available to move to afterwards.”

Given the lack of affordable housing in Canada, expecting youth to be able to move into stable and independent housing isn’t always realistic. There are also youth who may need ongoing support due to disability, mental and/or physical health issues. For many, transitional housing – despite being officially time-limited – ends up being home for people for much longer than initially intended. Another issue is that youth transitional housing is always limited by age, which puts a timeline on how long they can receive support from youth-specific agencies.

Youth Transitional HousingPromising practices for youth

We recently released the Youth Transitional Housing Toolkit, which collects much of the existing evidence on transitional housing for youth, as well as promising practices based on programs at Covenant House (Toronto and Vancouver).

The Foyer model of transitional housing is being used more and more because it provides life skills (cooking, finance management, building healthy relationships, etc.) and encourages residents to be employed and/or attending school and/or training. According to the toolkit: “This is particularly helpful in the case of younger teens and those leaving juvenile detention/corrections centers or child welfare.”

This model is much more flexible than traditional transitional housing programs, as it allows youth to stay longer and make use of convertible leases (agreements that can be transferred between the youth and the agency). Housing itself is either in the form of congregate living facilities, scattered site models or a combination of the two (Hub and Spoke models). This kind of approach offers youth variety and choice in finding housing and services that meets their needs.

The toolkit outlines some important criteria for effective transitional housing for youth:

  • “A focus on helping disadvantaged young people who are homeless or in housing need – including young people leaving care - to achieve the transition to adulthood and from dependence to independence.
  • A developmentally-appropriate environment to build competence and a feeling of achievement.
  • A holistic approach to meeting the young person’s needs based on an understanding of adolescent development.
  • A formal plan and agreement between the Foyer and young person as to how the Foyer’s facilities and local community resources will be used in making the transition to adulthood.
  • A supported transition that is not time limited, in which young people can practice independent living.
  • An investment in education, training, life skills and meaningful engagement in order to improve long-term life chances.
  • The provision of a community of peers and caring adults with emphasis on peer mentoring.
  • The provision of necessary and appropriate aftercare to ensure successful transitions to adulthood and independent living.”

In short, effective transitional housing for youth should go beyond simply putting a roof over their heads and also focus on fostering life skills, healthy relationships and independence. It should also aim to be a positive and accepting place for LGBTQ2 and Indigenous youth, who experience higher rates of homelessness than other youth. For more information, check out:

More Than a Roof: Best Practices for Transitional Housing Models for Youth in Halton

Becoming Adults: One-Year Impact Findings from the Youth Villages Transitional Living Evaluation

Coming of Age: Reimagining the Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada

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.


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