What is Diversion? An Overview of Emergency Shelter Diversion as a Practice and the Local Context in Waterloo Region

Diversion as a formalized practice within the housing stability system is a relatively new tool used to prevent the use of emergency shelter by providing individualized supports before families and individuals enter the shelter system. As described in an Alliance to End Homelessness best practice brief, diversion programs help people seeking shelter, “to identify immediate alternate housing arrangements and, if necessary, connect them with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing”. Diversion – where implemented successfully – has the potential to reduce demand on the emergency shelter system (by delaying entry or preventing shelter stays altogether) in a safe and effective way. In Waterloo Region, increased pressure on local emergency shelters has facilitated an interest in exploring how diversion efforts could be applied more effectively across the system. This report is intended to be used by emergency shelters and other stakeholders in the housing stability system as both an overview and a tool in supporting further implementation of this vital intervention. In this report, diversion is defined, approaches are described, and information is provided around when and how best to apply diversion strategies. As well, a summary of best practices is included along with a scan on local emergency shelters’ current approaches to diversion. Further detailed information is included in the appendixes including a proposed Emergency Shelter Diversion Assessment Template. On reviewing the literature, it became clear that information on emergency shelter diversion is limited and/or was not found to be readily available. Consequently, the majority of the information contained in this report emerged from the Prevention and Diversion Toolkit: Program Planning, Design and Implementation (and the various documents within) which are available on the National Alliance to End Homelessness website (2012).

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