Today’s blog post presents findings from Eva’s Home + Health: Better Housing Support for Women-Identified Homeless Youth with Mental Health Concerns project. The project received funding from the Women’s Xchange and was conducted in collaboration with Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness's social enterprise, Hub Solutions. To check out the full report and a video of the main points, click here. 

What was the purpose of the study?

We wanted to identify supports to help women-identified young people who experience homelessness and mental health concerns maintain their housing after leaving emergency shelter and transitional housing environments.

Why did we conduct the study?

Research shows that women-identified young people who experience homelessness are at a heightened risk of experiencing mental health challenges and face greater victimization while homeless; however, we know less about their mental health support needs once they enter housing. Therefore, this project fills an important knowledge gap. 

How did we collect our data?

We surveyed 11 women-identified young people currently residing at one of Eva’s Initiatives’ emergency shelters. All 11 participants completed a short survey on their housing, mental health, and support needs. The participants were getting ready to exit the shelter and enter into transitional or independent housing. Approximately 4 to 6 months later, nine of these participants completed a follow-up interview. 

We also conducted a focus group with staff from Eva’s to contextualize the survey results and hear what they are seeing in their work with women-identified young people with mental health challenges. 

What did we find?

Our results show that mental health challenges can be a barrier to stable housing. Of the nine participants we spoke to at follow-up, four were in independent housing, two were in transitional housing, two were in an emergency shelter, and one was in a housing environment that had both emergency shelter and transitional housing units. 

It appeared that the type of housing women-identified young people were living in impacted their mental health. For example, we saw improvements in mental health predominantly among young women living in transitional housing. In fact, these young people appeared to be thriving in this environment. Participants living in independent housing experienced personal growth, but also challenges in adjusting to life outside of the emergency shelter.  

Declines in mental health were more likely to occur among participants currently living in emergency shelters environments. The participants often attributed this to the stress of living in an emergency shelter.

Eva’s staff shared that a majority of the young people they work with experience mental health challenges. They felt that more funding should be provided to mental health supports, particularly as it relates to follow-up supports when women-identified young people leave emergency shelters. Staff also recommended that culturally responsive mental health supports should be offered. 

What do these results mean?

Overall, results demonstrate that women-identified young people with mental health challenges who experience homelessness are a unique group who are able to thrive in supportive environments. Support is key to women-identified young people with mental health challenges, as it can help to empower them to develop their autonomy and attain stable housing. 

What can agencies do to support women-identified young people who experience homelessness?

Based on the results, we came up with 10 recommendations to support women-identified young people who experience homelessness:

  1. Increase the level of in-house mental health supports for women-identified young people who access emergency shelters and develop mental health plans for them upon their exit.
  2. Ensure that women-identified young people are involved in the development of mental health supports that incorporate intersectional approaches.
  3. In developing mental health supports, ensure that a strengths-based approach is incorporated. It is also important to frame mental health supports in a strengths-based manner. 
  4. Ensure that mental health supports are framed in a trauma-informed care approach
  5. Apply the principles of Housing First for Youth, particularly among women-identified young people in independent housing. 
  6. In developing mental health supports, ensure they are holistic. An example of holistic indicators is outlined in Eva’s Outcome Framework
  7. Provide opportunities for staff training in mental health supports
  8. Consider a reduction in the time limits placed on transitional housing.
  9. Strengthen partnerships with mental health agencies and seek out new partnerships. 
  10. Develop research and evaluation projects to continue investigating supports for women-identified young people with mental health challenges who experience homelessness. 

Hub Solutions logoHub Solutions supports agencies, communities and policy makers to improve their capacity to end homelessness. Have a program or idea you’d like to evaluate or learn more about? Contact our Hub Solutions team.