This question came from Denise B. via our latest website survey: What are other programs/agencies/services in the Housing First model doing 'post Housing First?

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion about Housing First as a response to homelessness, and for good reason: Projects like At Home/Chez Soi, a national study across Toronto, Moncton, Winnipeg, Montreal and Vancouver have shown its effectiveness. For readers who are not familiar with the model, it is an approach that aims to reduce the number of barriers between people and housing.

For example, in some programs and services, people are required to prove that they are 100% sober all the time, or have a long-term job, or have met some other requirement. Housing First puts the need for permanent and independent housing first – theorizing that when appropriate supports and services are offered as needed, after housing, people are less likely to re-experience homelessness. Or, as Gaetz, Scott and Gulliver (2013) wrote:

Housing is not contingent upon readiness, or on ‘compliance’ (for instance, sobriety). Rather, it is a rights-based intervention rooted in the philosophy that all people deserve housing, and that adequate housing is a precondition for recovery.

In other words, it’s an approach that focuses on securing housing, well, first. But Denise’s question is a good one: what can organizations and agencies do once they’ve planned and implemented Housing First? In short: the priority then tends to become making the service sustainable.

Achieving sustainability

Housing First models are popular right now and tend to get a lot of support as research or “pilot” programs, but when it comes to making them a long-term investment, the process gets a bit trickier. And while these programs are important and effective, have their own sets of challenges (from our Housing First toolkit, pictured right) including:

  • Getting people from multidisciplinary teams to work together effectively and cohesively
  • Securing funding
  • Ensuring agency-wide support
  • Helping participants navigate tenancy

These and other challenges are omnipresent: they never really go away. Once a Housing First program is up and running, the key to its success is to make it sustainable – meaning the critical components (securing housing for people experiencing homelessness) stay running. Sustainability is crucial because it can lead to continued funding, ongoing benefits to participants, community partnerships, and other important outcomes. The Canadian Housing First Toolkit outlines the following key factors and processes that can promote Housing First sustainability:

1. Characteristics of the organizational environment (leadership, support from staff)

2. The surrounding community environment

3. Fit amongst other community resources

4. Political, economic, administrative and policy contexts

5. Being aware of sustainability influences (participants, other organizations, lobbyists, etc.)

There are a number of strategies organizations can adopt to help promote sustainability, including: early-stage planning, knowledge translation, communicating program successes and managing risk.

To see examples of how sustainable Housing First models work, we can look to a few of the At Home/Chez Soi project sites. In Toronto, engagement with government, thorough research and planning, key community partnerships, and funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care were all key to their ongoing success. In Calgary, evaluating at an early stage, communicating the continued successes of the program, and linking Housing First with affordable housing plans have led to Housing First policies being adapted in the city. In both case studies, those involved needed to shift from short-term to long-term and include legislation and policy action.

Moving towards preventative models

Of course, our work doesn’t end there. Housing First is, after all, still an emergency-level response to homelessness. We still need to work on creating a system of services, programs, legislation and policies that aim to prevent homelessness. As I wrote in a previous post, we know that preventative strategies can be effective: we just haven’t made the shift yet.

Advocacy and activism must remain a part of our work beyond creating Housing First models. A while back, Tanya wrote a great post outlining what people can do to help create change – incorporating such activities at an organizational level can be extremely effective.

For more information, check out:

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.