Housing First

Housing First: 

HF is an approach that addresses homelessness by moving chronic and episodic homelessness people into independent housing and then coordinating support services clients need to maintain housing. The Housing First (HF) approach has brought about an understanding that housing instability or homelessness is often the result of a number of interconnected social issues, ranging from mental health and addiction issues to domestic abuse and poverty.

A five-year research demonstration project started in 2008 by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has shown positive results for participants formerly chronically or episodically homeless to remain stably housed under the model.

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC) is exploring how this approach could be implemented in the NWT by:

  • Supporting the City of Yellowknife’s Community Advisory Board in their implementation of a Housing First project involving utilizing private market rental housing (scattered site HF model) in Yellowknife ($150,000 per year)
  • Assisting sheltering agencies to convert their excess space into separate, independent single occupancy rooms with share facilities (congregate HF model) using a one-time capital investment of $600,000.

Housing First has been adapted to fit unique needs of different communities across Canada, this means no one approach is exactly the same. Here are some elements of the Housing First approach:

Understanding Housing First:

Researchers who have studied the success of housing first have indicated it is due to the client-centred focus, number of interventions and collaboration from a range of agencies that assist people to remain housed. Implementing the two main interventions that make up a Housing First approach; housing and supports services for client’s wellbeing, require coordination and support from different agencies. Typically clients receive support services to provide assistance with their health and wellness, housing monitoring and financial assistance to landlords. Without support, people who experience chronic and episodic homelessness often experience trouble maintaining their own housing due to mental health, addictions, credit, literacy and other issues.  Most Housing First approaches target people experiencing homelessness who often have a range of issues including; physical health, mental health, addictions or poverty.  Housing First stemmed from realization that for people struggling with these issues, prolonged experiences of homelessness made these issues worse.  Clients are identified through a number of intake streams; including street outreach and discharge planning from institutions.

How do Most Programs Work?

Clients are provided with housing and support workers, who work with landlords to administer rental supplements, with the goal being that they pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. Basic housing furnishings and supplies are provided, in order to help the person get set up in an apartment. The only conditions are that people are willing to participate in a money management program whereby their rent is paid directly to a landlord and that they agree to at least two staff visits per month.
Clients can be provided with intensive case management to help them get established, and may receive support from community treatment teams on a weekly basis. Support teams differ all over Canada and some include nurses, psychiatrists, addictions specialist, employment counselors and peers. Self-determination is supported through consumer choice where clients are able to exercise choice in the type of housing they receive: scattered site, congregate, neighbourhood, etc.  Choice is one of the principles of HF, respecting that the location and type of housing may have important considerations for the client, e.g. congregate housing may help to foster a sense of security and safety for homeless women and girls.

Housing First Approaches in Canada:

Manitoba: Winnipeg Bell Hotel: includes 42 self-contained suites, similar to other apartment complexes in the city, offers additional support via case management and health-care services. Staff work on-site 24 hours a day and connect residents with services to support their health and wellness. Health experts report a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in tenants using emergency health services such as emergency rooms, ambulances and detentions under the "Intoxicated Persons Detention Act", when comparing data from 12 months prior to living at the Bell and during the implementation year.

Alberta:  The Grande Prairie YMCA Permanent Supportive Housing program: is based on the Housing First principles and works with individuals, couples and families at three housing sites.  The Program Staff work with individuals who would benefit from receiving on-going client supports in order to sustain their housing. Clients address their health, housing affordability, life skills and quality of life needs with their assigned Case Manager or Housing Support Worker.  

Alberta: The Medicine Hat Community Housing Society: The Medicine Hat Community Housing Society (MHCHS) coordinates the city’s social housing programs as well as homelessness initiatives.  The MHCHS oversees the implementation of their 5 Year Plan to End Homelessness. The foundation of the Plan and service delivery is based on a Housing First philosophy & approach. Potential participants must undergo an application process to determine their eligibility. MHCHS assesses the needs of each family and individual, and refers them to partnering agencies, which provide housing and the appropriate client-centred follow‑up supports that will increase their clients’ health, stability, and independence.