New Report looks critically at Housing First model

By Matthew Stock

The Housing First model is an increasingly popular approach to housing homeless Canadians. Many studies have examined the benefits of Housing First, arguing that it is more effective than traditional methods of addressing homelessness.

Far less attention has been paid to the challenges involved in operating Housing First programs, particularly in the Canadian context. The new report Ending Homelessness? A Critical Examination of Housing First in Canada and Winnipeg by Matthew Stock attempts to fill this research gap.

The report examines the limitations of the Housing First model, examining the difficulties associated with providing Housing First programs to participants with unique needs, as well as problems the Housing First model faces when operating in rural communities, with women and youth.

Challenges also exist in implementing Housing First in areas experiencing a shortage of affordable and/or social housing. Housing First provides wrap-around supports for people who are homeless and relies on existing housing stock in the private and public market. It is challenging to secure housing when vacancy rates for lower cost suites are in scarce supply.

The Housing First model is generally reliant on other programs (meal programs, emergency shelters, counselling centres, health and mental health services, income and education programs) to support participants as they transition out of homelessness, programs that may disappear as funding is reallocated to Housing First models.

To be effective Housing First programs need to adapt to the unique circumstances that they operate within, and need to be a part of a wider, comprehensive homelessness strategy. This strategy should include increasing the supply of affordable social housing, strong links to emergency support and preventative services, programs tailored to specific subpopulations and poverty reduction action plans.

Matthew Stock is a recent graduate of the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University in Ottawa.  His research interests are non-profit policy and homelessness policy.  He currently works as a research associate at the University of Ottawa.