There is no doubt about it. Canada is going through a major shift from managing homelessness to seeking permanent solutions. As a sector, we’re more focused than ever on ending chronic homelessness and we’re starting to get serious about preventing homelessness in the first place. As communities across the country are implementing Housing First programs and adapting the model to meet people’s needs, there is a lot of focus on accessing rent subsidies, finding affordable housing, building relationships with landlords, accessing wrap-around supports, and making sure people have what they need to keep their housing. This is a tall order and service providers are working hard putting these programs into action.
In overcoming the many challenges that come with getting and maintaining safe, appropriate, and permanent housing, it is not surprising that social inclusion is often seen as a secondary issue. However, social inclusion has a big impact on both housing stability and wellness. This may be particularly important for young women exiting homelessness, who often struggle with loneliness, social exclusion, and limited social supports and networks once they exit homelessness.
The importance of social integration for young people
Loneliness hurts us all. It has detrimental effects on our physical and mental health, as well as our individual and collective wellbeing. We can anticipate, then, how much loneliness can affect young people who are exiting homelessness. When young people transition from homelessness to housing, many feel isolated from community, family, and friends. This can have a negative impact on a young person’s mental health, wellbeing, and in their ability to maintain housing. Important research by Karabanow and colleagues, as well as Thulien et al., show that when young people exit homelessness they often continue to face significant challenges related to poverty, accessing services, and building social networks that can make them feel hopeless, excluded, and lonely. Sean Kidd and his research team found that becoming housed doesn’t necessarily eliminate discrimination, disadvantage, and wide-ranging inequities; meanwhile once youth become housed some are reluctant to access services from homeless-serving agencies, leaving them more isolated than ever. This is a serious problem as we know that social inclusion is very important for housing stability, especially for young people who are at a stage in life where connection with friends is crucial.
Young women’s exits from homelessness
While we’re learning more and more about how to support young people who are becoming housed, we still don’t know as much as we should about the unique experiences facing young women-identifying people. The causes and conditions of young women’s homelessness are distinct and so are there transitions to housing. Young women often have deep and sometimes complicated connections with family, which can make taking care of themselves secondary to helping others. Women-identifying people are also more likely to experience hidden homelessness, and thus may be less likely to connect with services and supports that can link them with housing. Further, some young women are mothers, which may help them secure housing in some contexts, but may also deter them from seeking support for housing for fear of child apprehension. The complex interactions between public systems – like housing, criminal justice, and child welfare – shape young women’s exits form homelessness and may contribute to isolation and exclusion in unique ways. These system interactions are experienced intersectionally, meaning that young women experiencing multiple forms of marginalization (e.g., racism and ableism) face unique barriers to social, political, and economic inclusion.
We also know that young women are vulnerable to being victims of violence, both as a cause of homelessness and during their transition to housing. For young Indigenous women, the threat of violence needs to be understood within the context of historical and ongoing colonial practices as a form of genocide. For young women experiencing homelessness, moving in with a male partner may be the only viable solution to becoming housed, but it can also pose a risk of intimate partner violence. Similarly, young women who are homeless are at risk of sexual exploitation, which may continue even after young women access a housing program or obtain rental housing.
Want to Hear More?
It is critical that apply a gender lens in our efforts to support the housing stability of young people exiting homelessness. Come to our session at CAEH 2019, as we engage in a discussion about how we can do more to support the social inclusion of young women who are transitioning to housing. We want to know what is happening in your communities and how we can work together!
This post is part of our #CAEH19 blog series which highlights research on preventing and ending homelessness that is being presented at the 2019 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, Nov 4-6 in Edmonton, AB. Learn more about Erin and Kaitlin's work through their presentation within the Continuum of Solutions to Women’s Homelessness session on Tuesday, November 5th at 10:00 am.