Transitional Housing refers to temporary housing that acts as a stopgap measure between homelessness and permanent housing.  As it applies to youth in particular, it is usually housing with the necessary supports that enable young people to live independently. 

Histories of abusive treatment, residential instability, addictions, and mental health issues add to the trauma of homelessness itself. Transitional housing is intended to offer a supportive living environment, opportunities, and tools for skill development, and promote the development of community among residents. These can be critical in enabling people to participate in employment or training programs, enrol in educational facilities, address addiction or mental health issues, and ultimately move to independent living in the larger community (Transitional Housing Models in Canada: Options and Outcomes). 

Length of transitional housing programs can vary – especially depending on the population – but generally range from three months to three years. Most transitional housing programs are housed within a building, but increasingly the use of scattered-sites with program supports is used. This type of housing offers less private space than is usually found in permanent housing. Space is often smaller and may include shared or single rooms and usually there is common space shared by all residents.

The primary difference between supportive housing and transitional housing is that residents in transitional housing are expected to “graduate” and to move on to a different type of housing or program. In Canada, under the former SCPI program (Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative) funded by the federal government, funding was available to build transitional housing, but not permanent housing. The lack however, of affordable housing in this country, has meant that except where an age mandate or a specific program was attached to the housing, many of the units have become de facto permanent housing for the residents.

Transitional housing for youth is always limited because of age restrictions. In most programs, youth exceed the program mandate on their 25th birthday. While in some cases an agency may provide minimal follow-up support, there is no funding to do this and therefore is usually very limited.

Creating a sense of permanency then is very difficult for youth. Using a scattered site approach to transitional housing, which allows for “convertible leases[3]” can help increase opportunities for permanency. Program supports can continue until the age of 25, at which point the youth may be ready for completely independent living or another agency, which serves adults, may take over the support component.

Covenant House Toronto and Vancouver are gradually increasing their scattered site transitional housing usage. In many cases, youth leaving their shelter/crisis care or their on-site transitional housing program are supported to transition to independent living with minimal supports still provided by Covenant House. Staff in both locations provide an in-depth aftercare program and youth in both sites are encouraged to reach out to Covenant House for support as needed (especially up to age 25). In a few cases, this off-site housing is obtained and supported through a partnership with a property management company (Hollyburn Properties in Vancouver and Toronto) or a builder/developer (The Daniels Corporation in Toronto).

This combination of on- and off-site transitional housing is a component of the Foyer’s Hub and Spoke model, which will be discussed in the next section.


[3] Convertible leases allow an agency to initially hold a lease in their name but to transition that lease to a young person at an appropriate time. This can be used when a young person is 16 or 17 and too young to sign the legal agreement, or to facilitate a young person’s transition into housing. It may also ease concerns of landlords who are hesitant about providing housing to a youth.