We are a group of university educators, front-line workers, people with lived experience of homelessness and sector leaders from Hamilton, Ontario. For the past two years, we have worked together as a project team leading a ‘Community University Policy Alliance’ focused on gender-based complex homelessness through McMaster School of Social Work.  

This project was established after Dr. Richard Splane (one of the founders of Canada’s social safety net) left a legacy gift to the School of Social Work at McMaster University to ‘strengthen the study of social policy.’ 

To do this, we formed a community-university policy alliance that draws together 
the perspectives of people with lived experience, front-line health and social care providers - peer workers, grassroots organizations and advocates. We also worked with and learned from sector leaders, decision-makers and academics. 

Our work aims to answer the following questions: Why are women (inclusive of 2-spirited, trans and cis) and non-binary people who access the women’s emergency shelter system experiencing multiple years of homelessness - going between outdoor spaces, temporary accommodations, drop-in programs, shelters and transitional living programs with no resolution to their homeless experience?

Nationally, women without children in their care represent one of the largest growing demographics of people experiencing chronic homelessness in Canada.  According to local community-based research on the gendered experiences of homelessness in Hamilton, the length of homelessness for women is significant - with some participants reporting over 25 years of consecutive homelessness. To create this report, we worked with people who experience, work in and care about the homelessness sector in Hamilton, Ontario to:             

  •  engage in careful policy and systems analysis and an interrogation of how to develop meaningful partnerships to leverage existing resources differently, exploring low barrier, supportive housing models across Canada;
  • centre the voices of people with lived experience and front-line staff in this process.
  • articulate an ideal housing model for people accessing women-serving organizations who experience complex (chronic and highly acute) homelessness.

Through the Community University Policy Alliance (CUPA), we worked collaboratively to develop a guide focused on policy and practice recommendations for developing gender-specific low barrier housing. This guide was developed through a participatory process that included people with lived experience, front-line health and social care providers - peer workers, grassroots organizations and advocates.  We also consulted 25 people experiencing gender-based complex homelessness during COVID-19 through a research arm of the project called Women Envisioning Supportive Housing. 

Our recommendations through the CUPA center around six key themes relating to gender-specific low barrier housing including: 

  1. on-site supports 
  2. staffing
  3. lease and program agreement
  4. housing for people who use drugs
  5. centring peers and community
  6. infrastructure

The reality is that this work is complicated, but it is possible. It requires prioritizing substantial sector planning, funding, and partnership development. It also needs people/organizations to be willing to make bold investments to end gender-based chronic homelessness.

Over the next few months, we hope to share this report through a series of implementation workshops with key decision makers and explore ways of making this housing model a reality for women in Hamilton. 

Click here to read the full guide.