“It feels like home”: the impacts of supportive housing on male youth – Perspectives of youth and service providers at Five Beds to Home

This study identifies the impacts of supportive housing on the lives of male youth. The researcher studied the Five Beds to Home (Five Beds) supportive housing facility for male youth, located in Cambridge, Ontario. The study focused on two areas: one, the current engagement of tenants and second, the long term impacts on past tenants. Impacts include areas such as progress on or achievement of goals/overcoming challenges, employment and education status, happiness and health, and housing stability. The general research questions were as follows: 1) What are the impacts of supportive housing on the lives of male youth?, 2) What have been the long term impacts on the youth?, 3) Are the current tenants engaged in Five Beds? Why? Why not?, and 4) What makes a good supportive housing facility for male youth? The objectives of the study were to identify both the strengths and challenges of the program, and to provide the youth with an opportunity to share their experiences in the hopes of improving services not just at Five Beds but services to homeless male youth and youth in general. The researcher completed qualitative, in-depth interviews with four former tenants of Five Beds, five current tenants and five staff. The researcher approached the topic using a critical social science and interpretivism/constructivism framework, utilizing empowerment and critical social theory. Elements of Participatory Action Research (PAR) were also used. Several themes emerged from the findings, related to factors external and internal to Five Beds. A prominent theme was that the Five Beds staff approach is overall, very effective. The approach blends support and caring, with the maintenance of boundaries and structure. An interesting and unique sub theme which was noted is that Five Beds feels “like home” for many tenants. In addition, Five Beds has succeeded in engaging many youth. The factors which combine to lead to tenant engagement at Five Beds were found to be: a positive bond or relationship with staff, progressing towards or achieving personal goals or overcoming challenges, experiencing improvements in health and happiness, feeling positively about moving downstairs, feeling involved in what happens at Five Beds, experiencing Five Beds as being “like home” and maintaining stable housing. In addition, most of the youth who have lived at Five Beds have stabilized; and/or achieved or taken significant steps to reach goals or overcome challenges. The former tenants are also maintaining stable housing. In addition, engagement and empowerment of youth in their residential setting was found to be crucial to better outcomes. The findings also indicate that while Five Beds has been successful with many youth, the model is not the most innovative because it contains elements of a custodial model. The findings support previous research which identifies that scattered site, integrated apartments in the community is the best model of supportive housing. Such a model gives tenants a greater degree of ownership and control in their living environment. Five Beds does not facilitate a significant amount of ownership or control for tenants. However, the findings also show that the Five Beds model is effective for male youth experiencing or at risk of persistent homelessness, which is the specific demographic that Five Beds serves. This finding suggests that male youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness may benefit from a living environment which incorporates some elements of a custodial model. Another finding strongly suggests that Five Beds would operate more effectively were it a stand-alone facility (currently the facility is in the basement of a male youth shelter). The information gleaned from the study may help service providers improve their services and better engage male youth and youth in general. The findings are presented here, including research and practice implications as well as recommendations to improve Five Beds.

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