As Canada exits the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency to permanently rehouse people experiencing homelessness continues to grow. Two concerns loom: the end of the moratorium on evictions, and the loss of current hotels/motels being used as temporary accommodations. It would be worst-case scenario if the thousands of people temporarily housed were forced back into shelter or absolute homelessness. One practice that has received growing attention is income supports in the form of rent supplements. But what do we know about the efficacy of this (notably expensive) intervention?

Tim AubryGary Bloch, and a large Canadian research team conducted a systematic literature review of over 15,000 research articles on supportive housing and income support interventions to end homelessness. They followed PRISMA and SWiM review guidelines and prioritized intervention research that achieved statistical significance. 

Here is some of what they learned:

  • Permanent supportive housing significantly improves long-term housing stability;
  • Rent subsidies significantly improve long-term housing stability;
  • Permanent supportive housing provides significant cost offsets, but also requires other health and social services to be available;
  • We still lack clear evidence of the impact of income supports on broader health and social outcomes;
  • Permanent supportive housing is an effective intervention even for those with the most severe health and social challenges;

The evidence clearly show—yet again—that housing is the solution for homelessness, even for those with the most complex needs. For some, supportive housing is all that’s needed. However, apart from this fairly well-acknowledged position, the evidence review helps provide further support from income supports in the form of rent subsidies/supplements. These continue to face some resistance due to the cost and in the face of the scale of need in Canada. 

However, the evidence is clear, rent subsidies in-and-of themselves are interventions to end homelessness and create housing stability.

As funds flow from the National Housing Strategy, it will be vital that all provinces and territories reach agreements to use the funds designated for rent subsidies within the NHS. While these do not replace supportive housing or other supportive interventions, they clearly are an evidence-based tool in the tool box for preventing and ending homelessness.