The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development announced Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy at an event in Toronto Monday. ‘Reaching Home’ represents the most significant change in federal homelessness programming since the introduction of the National Homelessness Initiative in 1999.
By Tim Richter
Reaching Home represents the most significant change in federal homelessness programming since the introduction of the National Homelessness Initiative in 1999. In addition to the previously announced doubling of federal homelessness investments under the National Housing Strategy, Reaching Home introduces some major innovations in the delivery of homelessness and social policy in Canada as a data driven, performance based program.
Monday’s announcement lays out the high-level direction of the new program. Over the summer and into the fall the government will be working with stakeholders on some of the specifics of program design.
Here are some of the highlights:
As previously announced, the government has nearly doubled homelessness funding and extended the program for 10 years under the National Housing Strategy. There will be new money for existing designated communities and new communities will be added to the program. The government will be adding new communities through a ‘transparent application process’. How much money communities will get, and the process for adding communities will be announced in the fall.
The government is reinforcing the community based model and introducing a data-driven, performance-based program with community level chronic homelessness reduction targets. This is a major positive change in federal homelessness programming and a significant innovation in the delivery of social policy in Canada. In the new program communities receiving federal money will be given greater flexibility on how they spend federal money but each community will be accountable to achieve a 50% reduction in chronic homelessness. Reaching Home removes the previous 65% Housing First investment target and puts the onus on communities to spend the money where they will achieve the greatest impact.
Communities will be required to collect and use real-time person specific data and introduce Coordinated Access Systems. Reaching Home embeds two essential strategies for preventing and reducing homelessness: By Name Lists and Coordinated Access Systems.
A By-Name List is a real-time list of all people experiencing homelessness in a community. It includes a robust set of data points that support coordinated access and prioritization at a household level and an understanding of homeless inflow, outflow and actively homeless numbers at a system level. This real-time actionable data supports triage to services and system performance evaluation. This real-time data will be key to measuring and achieving the federal chronic homelessness objective. There are already nine Canadian communities participating in our 20,000 Homes Campaign with quality By Name Lists.
A Coordinated Access System is an essential element of any effort to prevent and end homelessness. Implemented with a Housing First philosophy, these systems have been in place in the United States for several years and are being implemented in a growing number of Canadian communities. Coordinated access systems are designed to streamline the process for people experiencing homelessness to access the housing and support services needed to permanently end their homelessness.
By standardizing the intake and assessment process, sharing information in real-time, adopting uniform prioritization policies and coordinating referral processes, coordinated access systems connect people to the right housing and supports as efficiently as possible based on their preferences and level of need. This ensures communities get the most out of limited resources and can more rapidly and effectively prevent and end homelessness for those in greatest need.
Communities will be required to implement the Homelessness Individuals and Families Information System. Communities that already have robust data systems will not be required to implement HIFIS, but for those communities that do not, the implementation of HIFIS4 will be a requirement.
There will be increased funding for Indigenous homelessness. Reaching Homes makes important new investments in the Indigenous homelessness stream, recognizing the over representation of Indigenous Peoples in homelessness in Canada.
There will be a new community-based funding stream for Territories. Recognizing the unique housing and homelessness challenges in the north the government will be introducing a new funding stream for the Territories.
Taking the time to get it right. Reaching Home is a significant change from the current Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Over the summer and into the fall the government will be working with stakeholders to hammer out critical design elements of the new program. While Reaching Home officially begins April 1, 2019, the federal government will be supporting communities through a transition period.
Reaching Home? Can the new federal homelessness strategy, meet its objective to reduce chronic homelessness by 50%?
The short answer is ‘yes – but’. Reaching Home can achieve a 50% reduction in chronic homelessness in Canada – in fact they could go much further – but there are some key program design elements that will need to be in place to get there.
- Measures to ensure performance in a data driven, outcomes focused program. The government is focused on achieving a 50 percent reduction in chronic homelessness and is shifting to a performance-based program. They’ve put the right foot forward by having real-time data at the heart of the program and setting reduction targets, but they will need to go further if they want to achieve their targets. To drive performance and build a performance culture in the program, the government will need to ensure they have their own performance monitoring and improvement infrastructure in place, they develop community capacity for quality improvement and they should consider financial incentives for exceeding targets and measures to address under-performance.
- Continued emphasis on Housing First. The Housing First philosophy and Housing First programs are essential to preventing and reducing chronic homelessness, in fact, we won’t prevent and reduce chronic homelessness in Canada without it. Minister Duclos expressed strong support for Housing First, but removing the Housing First investment target could be risky because under pressure from the many competing funding demands in homeless services, communities may drift away from Housing First investments harming efforts to reduce chronic homelessness. The program must continue to encourage and support the implementation and adaptation of Housing First.
- Ensure funding supports housing outcomes. Local flexibility is a welcome feature of Reaching Home, but it could prove problematic. There are a lot of things we spend money on in homelessness services that don’t support a housing outcome – these aren’t necessarily bad programs, but they don’t all help people out of homelessness or support them to stay housed. To maximize the impact of the federal investment, communities should have the flexibility to invest federal money as they see fit so long as those dollars support a housing outcome and are consistent with Housing First.
- Implement a National Definition of Homelessness. An ongoing critical gap in the program is the absence of a federally adopted definition of homelessness. The lack of a definition could create a critical disadvantage to accessing Reaching Home funds for women, youth, individuals who identify as LGBTQ2S and Indigenous Peoples. Without a clear and inclusive definition homelessness can get narrowly defined to homeless shelters or mainstream homeless services and exclude people who may be hidden homeless or outside those systems.
- Implement the Indigenous Definition of Homelessness. Indigenous Peoples represent a significant percentage of Canada’s chronically homelessness population. The omission of the Indigenous Definition of Homelessness is major gap in Reaching Home. The definition is essential to our understanding of Indigenous homelessness and in shaping community and national responses tailored to the specific needs of Indigenous Peoples.
- Ensure the voice of lived experience is embedded locally and nationally. If we want to transform systems and programs and achieve better housing outcomes, its essential to engage the people in those system in the development of solutions.
- Addressing the unique needs of homeless women and youth. In the design of Reaching Home, attention will need to be paid to the unique needs of women and youth experiencing homelessness. A Way Home and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness offered some good advice in recommendations to the Advisory Committee on Homelessness.
- Ensure the National Funding Stream is used to build community capacity and fund innovation. Reaching Home is expected to have a national funding stream (formerly the Innovative Solutions to Homelessness stream). It will be important for that funding to be focused on community capacity building and demonstration projects focused on prevention.
- Link the federal homelessness objective with the National Housing Strategy. The government must ensure that National Housing Strategy housing investments are targeted to support their homelessness objectives. We know from Canadian and international experience that unless governments specifically target housing investments to homelessness – especially for the development of permanent supportive housing and rent geared to income housing – people experiencing homelessness will not benefit or be able to access what affordable housing is created. affordable housing.
In conclusion: ‘Reaching Home’ represents the most significant change in federal homelessness programming since the introduction of the National Homelessness Initiative in 1999. In addition to the previously announced doubling of federal homelessness investments under the National Housing Strategy, Reaching Home introduces some major innovations in the delivery of homelessness and social policy in Canada as a data-driven, performance-based program. Reaching Home has the potential to meet and exceed its objective to reduce chronic homelessness by 50%, but there are some key program design elements that will need to be in place to get there.