Homeless Solutions: A Continuum of Supported Housing Options

Lookout Emergency Aid Society

Homeless Solutions: a continuum of supported housing options
May 12, 2010
There are three primary entries into housing for homeless individuals, with variations within each to be responsive to the needs of individuals.

1. Emergency or Temporary Housing (e.g. shelters, safe houses, transition homes)
2. Transitional or Time limited Housing
3. Permanent Housing

Persons who are homeless can access any of these three levels without having to go through other entries, or individuals can move from the short-stay emergency housing, through transitional and into permanent housing, depending on their situations and need at the time.

Emergency or Temporary Housing
Emergency or Temporary Housing is a starting place to send/take someone without housing and without funds, including the absolute homeless from the street or people who couch surf and are at risk of absolute homelessness. It is accessed directly by people walking in or self referring, or through a person being referred from any source including outreach workers, emergency personnel (police, fire, ambulance), hospitals, income assistance, or a member of the public. Emergency or temporary housing provides safe, secure shelter services without cost, and is usually available with two experienced staff members 24 hours per day. Some emergency housing is gender or age specific. For example, it could be women-only services (including resources for women fleeing violence), family resources or youth safe houses, while others provide services to adult men and women in one facility. Emergency housing offers accommodation, food, and access to bathing facilities, clean clothes, laundry and basic hygiene supplies. Communal lounge and dining areas are provided, often with access to computers, phones and TVs. The accommodation is usually shared, but can range from single or double  occupancy rooms, to dorm settings. Bathrooms are usually down a hall. Emergency housing should be minimal barrier – e.g. be handicapped accessible as well as provide secure storage for belongings and be welcoming of pets. Staff at emergency housing provide support, assistance, and help each person develop a plan to address their circumstances. Staff identify resources that a person may need and refer/liaise as appropriate to access services both on and off site. A best practice is to have Outreach Workers attached to the emergency housing to provide continuity and assistance whether in the streets, accessing services or additional support to help a person succeed in their housing. Relationship building is a key fundamental role for all staff. Non judgmental and flexible, emergency housing does not limit the number of times a person stays and ensures that the length of stay in the emergency housing is responsive to the individuals needs. The goal is to bridge people into appropriate resources including treatment and long term housing for when the person leaves.

Transitional or interim housing (up to 3 years)

Transitional or interim housing is usually housing that provides affordable housing, support and assistance to people with a history of homelessness for a period ranging from six months to up to two to three years. Focusing primarily on individuals who may repeatedly be without housing, or individuals who will be at high risk of homelessness without support and assistance for a time period, transitional housing recognizes that some individuals may need support and assistance over a period of time to develop greater stability, e.g. in their health or lifestyle, to enable them to move successfully to permanent housing. Transitional housing is usually staffed 24/7 to ensure safety and security for the residents, and frequently are co-located with temporary housing or shelters who staffing provide overnight support. Often individuals using transitional housing, in addition to living in poverty, cope with health problems such as mental illness, addictions or medical conditions, disabilities and/or combinations of such. All transitional housing services have staff that provide support, assistance, and help each person develop a plan to address their circumstances. It is expected that residents of transitional housing will set and work towards goals that they develop for themselves, working closely with the staff. Staff identify resources that a person may need, and refer/liaise as appropriate to access services both on and off site. Lifeskill development is a major focus including literacy, budgeting skills, self care skills (nutrition, treatment (incl. medication), safety, anger management, etc. The goal is to assist residents to gain permanent housing with the amount of support that they require to maintain the housing successfully. Referrals to employment, pre-employment training, educational resources and/or employment occur as appropriate. Usually transitional housing rooms have single occupants and frequently have their own bathing facilities, kitchen or kitchenette. They range from single rooms to studio apartments and can be as large as 60 units within a transitional housing model. Some housing programs are subject to the Residential Tenancy Act while others are exempt due to the level of support and interventions.

Permanent Housing that is Affordable

Permanent housing can come in a variety of forms: it can be supported housing or independent. It can be in private rental housing (e.g. basement suites, apartments) or in apartment blocks that are specially built as supported housing. It is usually single occupancy accommodation – i.e. studio or one bedroom apartments that contain washrooms, kitchen/ette, and living areas. Support can be provided by on-site staff or through outreach services. Rental rates can be subsidized, including through rent supplement programs. When permanent housing is supported, there is a continuum of housing available, including the minimal-barrier ‘Housing First’ model that is based on the provision of housing before accessing any other service or linkages with whatever services that may be needed. This is based on research that shows people in their own home more rapidly rebuild their confidence and skills, to identify issues and work towards solutions. The supportive permanent housing may include a food program, lifeskill or treatment program. Most permanent housing is subject to the Residential Tenancy Act.

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