From Homeless to Housed: Housing First

If you’re involved in the field of homelessness reduction, you’ve likely heard of the Housing First approach. For those who haven’t heard of it, Housing First is a relatively recent method of resolving homelessness. As it sounds, Housing First moves a homeless person directly from the street to an apartment. The philosophy is that by putting someone into a stable living situation, the issues that contributed to them becoming homeless can be addressed more easily.

If you think that’s how it’s always been done, you’d be mistaken. Most programs that work with housing the homeless move people from the street to a shelter, then to transitional housing and then to their own apartment. The continuum of care works with an individual at each stage to help them address the issues that led to their homelessness and when individuals are ready, they are moved to more independent living arrangements.

There are five core principles in the Housing First approach.

1)  Immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements
2) Consumer choice and self-determination
3) Recovery orientation
4) Individualized and client-driven supports
5) Social and community integration

In Canada, Housing First programs were evaluated by the At Home/Chez Soi project which did a randomized, controlled trial involving 2000 people where 1000 people were treated using a Housing First approach and the other 1000 were treated as usual (TAU). Every person in the study had at least one mental health issue and over 90% had a major health problem. The results were startling. Over 80% of people in the Housing First programs were still housed one year later compared to 54% in the TAU group. There were also economic benefits associated with the Housing First approach compared to TAU. This was the world’s largest controlled test of the Housing First approach.

In Niagara, the Housing First approach is recommended in the regional government’s 2013 Housing and Homelessness Action Plan. Niagara Regional Housing accepted proposals for Housing First pilot projects in 2012 and funding was made available to a number of agencies including The Salvation Army for Housing First programs. The end date of the funding for those pilot projects was March 31, 2015. It is hoped by many in the homelessness and poverty reduction field that funding will be reinstated for these programs.

To learn more about the Housing First experience in Canada, click here:

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