Placing the Blame: Why are Housing Programs Failing?

By Abe Oudshoorn, Western University

While communities such as Edmonton are celebrating tangible progress on ending homelessness, the media landscape on homelessness in Canada is far more mixed. Communities such as LondonBramptonBellevilleWinnipeg, and Vancouver have all been recently identified as continuing to experience crisis levels of homelessness. This can be puzzling as the differences between these communities are smaller than might be presumed. For example, most of these communities are part of Built For Zero Canada and employ Housing First programs to end chronic homelessness. Additionally, data from Point-in-Time counts suggest that demographics of those experiencing homelessness across Canada follow similar trends.

So why are people still not getting housed? Is it a failure of people experiencing homelessness? Is it a failure of housing programs? Or is something else going on?

Bruce Wallace, Bernie Pauly, Kathleen Perkin, and Geoff Cross of the Canadian Institute of Substance Use Research in Victoria, BC in reviewing a modestly sized transitional housing program have stumbled upon answers to these much broader questions.

Their article titled, “Where’s the Housing? Housing and Income Outcomes of a Transitional Program to End Homelessness” outlines a mixed methods evaluation of a one-year transitional housing program that involved intensive case management and connection to rent supplements for those seeking to exit shelter to housing. By tracking the progress and particularities of 111 program participants they were able to understand progress over time and particular indicators of success or failure in finding permanent, affordable housing.

Their data points to three strong conclusions:

1. Failure to obtain housing is not the fault of individual program participants.

2. Failure to obtain housing is not the fault of the program.

3. Failure to obtain housing is due to system-level forces that create and sustain poverty and inequities.

Wallace and colleagues clearly detail the combined challenges of high rents, low vacancies, deeply inadequate social assistance rates, long wait-lists for affordable housing, and limited access to rent subsidies. They note the notable long-term housing success of those who went through the transitional program, but this success is very heavily due to providing folks with an extra year to gain access to things like subsidized housing or rent supplements; those successfully housed were for the most part not gaining access to market rent housing.

Their concluding advice? “A focus on investments in housing supply, social assistance, and income adequacy and inequities must dominate housing responses and evaluations.”

Source: Homeless Hub