In order to end homelessness, a community needs a clear, deliberate, and comprehensive strategy. The 10 Essentials to a successful Plan to End Homelessness are:
- data, research & best practices;
- coordinated system of care;
- emergency prevention;
- systems prevention;
- housing focused outreach;
- rapid re-housing;
- housing support services; and
- permanent housing.
Successful community Plans to End Homelessness are evidence-based; have measurable and ambitious outcomes and key milestones; are learning, living and adaptive documents; cover the 10 Essentials; and critically, are the product of an inclusive community process that engages key players in the local homeless system, including people with lived experience.
While planning, it’s important to have representatives and input from all the groups with a role in the issue, as well as informed outsiders – the unusual suspects. Your Planning Committee should include: political leaders and government officials from the three levels of government, business leaders, community activists, Aboriginal peoples, faith leaders, researchers, funders and people with lived experience.
Ten Year Plans are a challenge to the status quo and will not be without controversy, detractors and difficult conversations. Don’t expect a smooth ride! Your planning process should anticipate some conflict, so ensure your Planning Committee has a measure of independence, a balance of perspectives, a focus on action and results, an agreed upon process and, importantly, a deadline.
The planning process offers a unique opportunity to have an open dialogue, take a fresh look at an old problem, engage the public and re-engage government partners on neutral ground.
Many communities have gone before you in writing 10 Year Plans and there are many excellent examples to draw from.
Data, research and best practices
Ending homelessness can feel like an impossible task given the overwhelming scope of the problem and its apparent complexity. But with recent research, planning and experience with ending homelessness in Canada, the U.S., the European Union and Australia everything you need to know to begin ending homelessness exists.
In Canada, there is no nationally-accepted definition of homelessness and there are no reliable national counts on the number of Canadians who experience homelessness. However, every community will have some local information on homelessness. Most communities conduct a biannual point-in-time census, or have participated in the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System required by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada as part of the Homeless Partnering Strategy.
Even in the absence of substantial local data, enough is known about homelessness to make assumptions on the local homeless and at risk population, as well as the dynamics of homelessness in your community.
That said, putting in place an effective means of collecting homelessness data in your community and information on the functioning of your homeless system of care is essential. Developing and implementing a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) in your community is a critical first step in any Plan to End Homelessness.
An HMIS is a locally administered, electronic data collection system that knits together the homeless-serving system. Calgary is the first city in Canada to have an HMIS.
In the U.S. where HMIS systems have benefited from 20 years of development, HMIS systems are now being used by more than 400 communities to co-ordinate service delivery. These HMIS systems are web-based software applications that record and store client-level information on the characteristics and service needs of individuals and families at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
By gathering consistent information, homeless-serving agencies can apply common assessment tools to appropriately match a client with services, co-ordinate and monitor assistance provided across agencies and identify where there are opportunities to improve the system overall.
Effective 10 Year Plans are rooted in evidence-based practice and solid research. Building a research capacity into community Plans to End Homelessness provides a means of understanding the dynamics and effectiveness of your local homeless-serving system and the needs of homeless or at risk people in your community. Research also provides a means of identifying established best practices that can be adapted to meet the needs of your community.
One outstanding resource for Canadian communities is the Canadian Homelessness Research Network’s Homeless Hub.
Co-ordinate the homelessness system of care to end homelessness
In every community there are dozens, and often hundreds, of public and non-profit programs and agencies that serve poor and homeless individual and families. It becomes a patchwork of emergency responses that are not effectively co-ordinated into a system of care designed to end homelessness.
A successful 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness organizes and co-ordinates the system of care to ensure homeless or at-risk families and individuals have access to the housing and support services necessary to achieve independence as quickly as possible. This often requires immediate access to housing, home-based case management and incentives to promote these outcomes.
10 Year Plans should identify:
- a single point of accountability for implementation;
- process for system organization, planning and coordination;
- process for monitoring the effectiveness of the homeless serving system; and
- a plan for adapting to environmental changes, learning, best practices and improved information.
In order to maintain housing, people exiting homelessness must have income. Financial assistance programs, including rent supports, are available through provincial governments, and career-based employment services can help formerly homeless people build the skills necessary to increase their income. Mainstream services should be used for this purpose.
The most economic and efficient way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Homeless people travel a predictable path into homelessness. On their way into homelessness, every single homeless individual or family will have come into contact with a person, program or system that could have prevented their homelessness.
In order to end homelessness, communities need a thoughtful and methodical prevention strategy that includes: early detection, emergency assistance, system coordination, housing and support services and access to the income necessary to sustain housing (through employment or mainstream income support programs as required). Many existing social programs connect vulnerable populations with emergency services, temporary cash assistance and case management. Consider ways to integrate with these existing systems or adopt your own.
Many people who fall into homelessness do so after release from state-run institutions, including jails and the child welfare system. Others come to homelessness from mental health programs and other medical care facilities. By creating a clear path to housing and support from those institutions – in the form of case management, access to services or housing assistance programs – we can reduce the role that state-run institutions play in creating homelessness.
An important role in ending homelessness is outreach to people experiencing homelessness. A key ingredient to outreach is the ability to connect the homeless population with housing and support. When considering outreach efforts, it’s important to understand that many people living on the streets exhibit mental illness, addiction and other negative behaviour patterns. Therefore it’s important to consider low-demand housing that does not mandate sobriety or treatment.
Navigating the housing market, especially on behalf of clients with lower incomes and higher needs, is a difficult task. A successful homeless-serving system has housing staff that help with just that. Housing locators search local markets and build relationships with landlords. Successful program components include:
- incentives to landlords to rent to homeless households;
- creative uses of housing vouchers and subsidies to improve affordability; and
- links to resources to help clients maintain their housing.
Housing support services
Many services already exist in the community. In many cases, homeless individuals can access mainstream programs. Connecting families and individuals exiting homelessness to these programs is imperative to ensuring their continued independence.
In a Housing First-based community plan, the provision of high quality housing support services tailored to the needs and wishes of clients is a critical success factor. There are a range of Housing First programs to address different populations’ needs, from Assertive Community Treatment to Intensive Case Management. Housing First can also exist within different housing forms, from scattered site housing in the private rental marketplace, to housing in mixed affordable housing, to permanent supportive housing. The housing form appropriate for your client will be dictated by client choice, needs and the housing market in your community.
At its heart, there are four core principles to Housing First that you should observe in your community plan:
- consumer choice and self-determination;
- immediate access to permanent housing with the support necessary to sustain it;
- housing not conditional on sobriety or program participation; and
- the ultimate goal of social inclusion, self-sufficiency, and improved quality of life and health.
At its root, homelessness is the result of the inability to afford and maintain housing. Any Plan to End Homelessness must incorporate an investment into creating affordable housing. The majority of people experiencing homelessness can be successfully housed with support services in subsidized market rental housing. Some people, as a result of severe health, mental health, behavioural and/or addictions issues may require permanent housing coupled with onsite supportive services.