Last Updated: 15 December 2011
Last Modified: 31 July 2012
Homelessness: Definitions, Strategies & Solutions
Ideas and Approaches
Selected definitions, strategies and solutions applied to research, resolution and prevention of homelessness. This page presents a collection of useful excerpts and links for ready reference - from Europe, the United States and Canada.
On this page...
Focus On International Research
Stephen Gaetz is Director of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network and Associate Dean of Research and Field Development at York University. He led
Canada's first national homelessness research conference. Andrew Hollows is Deputy Executive Director of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI)
which facilitates the National Homelessness Research Network.
Is there specific research or evaluation work by U.S. researchers that has been particularly influential on policy or practice in your country?
I would say that the work of Sam Tsembaris and Pathways to Housing has been highly
influential in framing the Housing First approach as a paradigm-shifting approach to addressing homelessness in Canada. In addition, I would say that the emphasis on data gathering and evaluation that is central to
the push for "Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness" championed by both the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Alliance to End Homelessness is beginning to have
an impact here in Canada.
I must agree about the Tsembaris/Pathways evaluations of Housing First. That body of research shows that by providing permanent, independent
housing and relevant support services, Housing First removes some of the major obstacles to obtaining housing for people who have been chronically homeless. In my role before AHURI, work by
Paul Toro and Dennis McDonnell and others about public perceptions
about homelessness was very useful for efforts here in Australia to re-frame issues of attribution and responsibility for homelessness.
What about research and evaluation work that has been conducted in your country that our audience might find useful?
One is a study by Chamberlain, Johnson and Theobald that analyses the experiences of 4,252 homeless people and 934 people at risk of homelessness (See Chamberlain, C. Johnson, G. & Theobald, J. (2007) Homelessness in
Melbourne: Confronting the Challenge (2007). RMIT University Press, Melbourne). It found that 30 percent of respondents had mental health issues, but what is most interesting is the time
of onset of those mental health issues. Just over half (53 percent) developed these problems after becoming homeless. In addition, two-fifths (43 percent) had problems with substance use, with 66 percent
developing their problem after they became homeless. While some people enter the homeless population because of substance use, many engage in substance use only after they have become
The best example I can offer relates to an impressive body of research that has emerged relating to the Insite program in
Vancouver. This program is a harm-reduction based safe injection site that helps support people with addictions. This is also perhaps one of the most researched programs in the homelessness sector in Canada. What
makes this body of research so significant is not only that it demonstrates pretty conclusively the effectiveness of the program, and of harm reduction in general, but that it
provides an evidence base for interventions that are not always politically popular.
I'd also like to highlight some research being conducted by AHURI about intergenerational homelessness. This research examines the patterns and determinants of
intergenerational homelessness and homelessness service use in Australia, and the role and impact of service delivery and policy interventions designed to
avert or break the cycle of homelessness across generations. Click here to download this study.
What are some of the emerging practices for ending homelessness being implemented in your country?
I would argue that the real centre for innovation in Canada is the province of Alberta and in particular, the City of Calgary. The Calgary Homeless Foundation has developed and is
implementing a Ten Year Plan that is shifting the focus from emergency services to prevention and rapid re-housing. Not only is this strategic response innovative, but it is effective, as demonstrated by the robust system of
evaluation built into the plan. It should also be mentioned that the Calgary Homeless Foundation has actively engaged the research community in its work, realizing the value of co-creating a research agenda.
At the national level, we have a white paper [The Road Home: A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness] on Homelessness that seeks to reduce homelessness through early intervention and prevention, expanded and integrated services, and encouraging housing stability
to break the cycle of homelessness. One underlying principle is "no exits" into homelessness by:
- Increasing support for people in public and private rental housing to maintain their tenancies;
- Assisting up to 9,000 additional young people between 12 and 18 years of age to remain connected with their families;
- 'No exits into homelessness' from statutory, custodial care, health, mental health and drug and alcohol services; and
- Helping women and children who experience domestic violence to stay safely in the family home.
Ottawa (December 8, 2009) – A major Senate report tabled today is declaring that Canada’s system for lifting people out of poverty is substantially broken and must be overhauled.
"We began this study by focusing on the most vulnerable city-dwellers in the country, those whose lives are marginalized by poverty, housing challenges and homelessness." stated Senator
Art Eggleton, Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Cities. "As our research evolved, so too did our frustration and concern
as we repeatedly heard accounts of policies and programs only making living in poverty more manageable – which essentially entraps people."
The recommendations in the report, In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness, are the summation of a two-year cross-country study. Committee members heard
testimony from more than 170 witnesses, including people living in poverty, several of them homeless, as well as universities, think tanks, provincial and local governments and community
Based on the findings of this extensive study, the Committee’s first and fundamental recommendation is that Canada and all provinces and territories adopt the goal of lifting
people out of poverty. Included among the vast range of measures recommended by the Committee to realize this core goal are the coordination of a nationwide federal-provincial
initiative on early childhood education; the development of a national housing and homelessness strategy; and the creation of a basic income floor for all Canadians who are severely disabled.
The Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) is an existing government program that the report highlights as bearing real promise because it gives people the pure incentive to get a job. To
strengthen the WITB’s capacity to help Canada’s poor, the report recommends that the federal government commit to a schedule of long-term planned increases to bring recipients to the
Low Income Cut-off line – as opposed to managing in poverty.
"According to 2007 numbers from Statistics Canada, we spend $150 billion dollars each year in federal and provincial transfer payments to individuals, excluding education and health
care costs. So how is it that there are still millions of Canadians weighed down by poverty?" asked Senator Hugh Segal, Deputy Chair of the Subcommittee. "The Committee’s recommendations
demonstrate the crucial difference between spending, and spending wisely. By breaking the cycle of poverty once and for all, we will be investing in human empowerment – which will drive
the health and prosperity of our cities and yield benefits for all of us."
The starting point in any discussion of "homelessness" involves our definition of the term. If we frame our discussion in the narrowest sense,
we run the risk of failing to appreciate the true scope of the problem and devising piecemeal solutions which may prove both ineffective and inefficient.
As Lyne Casavant (1999) correctly observes in DEFINITION OF HOMELESSNESS:
The Search for a Definition of Homelessness
The definition of homelessness is at the centre of some major policy considerations. Clearly, any definition has a direct
influence on quantitative evaluations of the number of people affected by the phenomenon and consequently on the scope of
the resources that ought to be devoted to it. For example, the use of relatively broad definitions tends to increase the
number of those deemed to be homeless and implies the need for a reassessment of the criteria for access to decent housing,
low-cost housing construction policies, and the funding of the services directed to this population. [...]
[...] All definitions present some difficulties in terms of their application, posing substantial challenges to research in,
for example, the choice of the environment for data collection, evaluation of the representative sample, the extent to
which the results can be generalized, and comparison of results. Though most researchers in Canada adopt the definition
used by the United Nations [see Articles 22 and 25, appended below], it is hard to use from the methodological standpoint.
How, in fact, can one locate the people living in dwellings that do not meet the basic UN criteria? Given these difficulties,
most of the empirical research in Canada relies on the first part of the UN definition — that is, homelessness as meaning
literally without shelter. The research methods are therefore focused on the services directed to the homeless. So the
definition is cited in terms of theory, but in practice is used only in part. In Canada, however, it is acknowledged that
these methods make it impossible to have the full picture of the situation, whose gravity is therefore underestimated. [...]
In summary, two issues must be kept in mind when reviewing studies of homelessness. The definition of that term favoured by the
researchers and the method they employ to identify the homeless must both be clear. It is important to remember that the
term "homelessness" can refer to various situations — people living with friends, women staying for a short period in shelters
for abused women, and prisoners are all sometimes put into this category. It is necessary, therefore, to be aware that, unless
they are seen in context, the research findings are meaningless.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization,
through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each
State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
- (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event
of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock,
shall enjoy the same social protection.
An overarching definition such as that employed by the The Homeless Hub: Canadian Homelessness Research Library (York University)
provides a sense of the complexities involved:
Homelessness is an extreme form of poverty characterized by the instability of housing and the inadequacy of income,
health care supports and social supports. This definition includes people who are absolutely homeless (those living
on the streets, sometimes referred to as "rough sleepers"); shelter dwellers (people staying temporarily in emergency
shelters or hostels); the "hidden homeless" (people staying temporarily with friends or family), and others who are
described as under housed or "at risk" of homelessness.
On the other hand, narrowly framed definitions e.g., the homeless are "those using emergency shelters and those sleeping in the street"* are not useful
except in the sense that they afford us the opportunity to limit our impression of the problem and therefore make less encompassing our efforts to
apprehend and resolve the many issues that contribute to it. If the problem isn't perceived as quite so serious, our moral obligation to provide redress seems less imperative.
The Definition of Homelessness
Determining who to be included in a definition of the homeless is a divisive task. It is generally agreed that homelessness
is a social problem in need of a remedy. Consequently, disagreement about the appropriate remedy often manifests as disagreement
about terminology. Who we define as homeless tends to determine who will be the recipient of funding, resources, and services
that are provided to deal with the problem. The definition will also tend to influence the demographic methods available to
count or survey the homeless, and will influence the final tally. These numbers in turn tend to affect the allocations of
scarce resources. So disagreement about funding, resources, and services leads to disagreements about definition. [...]
Rather than selecting a final empirical definition of homelessness, we can proceed with a provisional and abstract definition
of a homeless person as a person who is without reasonable access to adequate accommodation. Such a definition would include
circumstances of individuals who are considered by reasonably compassionate people to be homeless, including:
- Persons who reside in places that are not intended as, or are unfit for human habitation, including cars, abandoned
buildings, bus or train stations, under bridges, in garbage or recycling dumpsters, parks, or other places lacking
- Persons sharing housing at the whim of other persons on an interim or emergency basis.
- Persons whose primary nighttime place of abode is a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed
to provide temporary living accommodations, including shelters for victims of domestic violence, welfare hotels, congregate
shelters, and transitional housing.
Quibbling over details of definitions is neither necessary nor desirable. Defining the homeless as persons without reasonable access to adequate
accommodation facilitates discourse on the issues without constricting normative aspects of the discussion. We can proceed without further refinements
on the terms 'access', 'adequate', or 'accommodation'.
Engaging With The Causes Of Homelessness
The causes of homelessness are complex and multiple; more than simply a lack of purchasing power, homelessness cannot be
reduced to poverty. Homelessness is tied to various social ills, including substance abuse, domestic
violence (including violence against elders, spouses, and children), shortages of affordable urban housing, high
unemployment rates including frictional and seasonal unemployment, racial discrimination and discrimination against
the poor, and untreated or inadequately treated mental illness.
The causes of homelessness plainly give rise to special issues of social policy at the intersection of the fields of economics,
medicine, urban planning, child and family protection, welfare reform, and so on. The formulation of opinion on these issues
demand insight into the specialized fields in which they emerge. More vexing is the reality that these issues often intersect
in troublesome ways to deny the neophyte a simple uncomplicated remedy. [...]
The causes of homelessness are indeed "complex and multiple", but a clear purpose is served in the assertion that "more than
simply a lack of purchasing power, homeless cannot be reduced to poverty". The author of this document elsewhere indicates concern
that "[t]hese complex issues of causation are to be approached with caution for fear of expanding beyond [the Association's] range
of opinion and contracting our sphere of credibility". While it is possible to interpret the causes of homelessness in terms
of "various social ills", it is increasingly evident that the lack of a national affordable housing strategy, adequate levels of
minimum wage and social support are fundamental contributory elements. Homelessness is an escalating problem in Canada
one that involves people in greater numbers than we can identify and successfully integrate through restricted or skewed
frames of reference. [...]
Researchers rightly refer to homelessness as "an odd-job word, pressed into service to impose
order on a hodgepodge of social dislocation, extreme poverty, seasonal or itinerant work, and
unconventional ways of life." 6
The word homeless has been used throughout history. Adding the suffix –less means without:
without home. To be homeless, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is to have
"no home or permanent abode." This word is clear and simple. In a recent update to the OED,
likely due to the widespread and unfortunate use of the designation "the homeless," the OED
added the word homeless as a noun with the definition: "homeless people as a class." There is no
entry in the OED for homelessness.
By the early 1980s we needed a new term for a widespread mass phenomenon, a new social
problem found in many wealthy, developed nations. The response was to add yet another suffix
to further qualify the word homeless, to give us that odd-job word, homeless-ness.7 Adding the
suffix −ness makes the simple and clear word homeless into an abstract concept. As such, it
allows users, readers, and listeners to imagine whatever they want. It tosses all sorts of problems
into one handy term. We thus have the ongoing problem of defining what homeless-ness is and
isn’t. There is no single correct definition, given the different mix of problems that goes into the
hodgepodge of issues, and depending on who is using the term.
We, therefore, need to be careful when we use the words homeless and homelessness. While it is
true that all societies through history tend to have some people who are homeless – without a
home – we have not always had the set of social problems we associate with the word
Starting in the 1980s it was clear that homelessness referred to a poverty that includes being
unhoused. It is a poverty that means being without required social supports. And it is poverty so
deep that even poor-quality housing is not affordable. Canada has always had many people living
in poverty. In the 1980s more and more people were not only poor, but also found themselves
In short, we have not used the word homelessness for very long. It was rarely used before the
1980s. It is a catch-all term for a host of serious social and economic policy failures – more
serious than in the past. Its widespread usage reflects what has happened to Canadian society –
the way we organize who gets what, and our failure to have in place systems for meeting basic
human needs in a universal, inclusive fashion. We were moving in that direction up to the 1980s.
There is one major exception to this failure to act and the decisions to weaken and terminate a
host of social supports. We continued to build and strengthen our universal health care system.
We could have and should have done this in the areas of housing, income, and support services.
Poverty would likely have been reduced and Canadians would likely have little need to define a
new set of severe interrelated social problems by adding that suffix –ness to the word homeless. [...]
- Kim Hopper and Jim Baumohl (1996) "Redefining the Cursed Word," Chapter 1 of Homelessness in America, J. Baumohl,
editor, Phoenix: Oryx Press, p.3
- A search of the New York Times historical database covering 1851 to 2005, for example, finds that the word homelessness
was used in 4,755 articles, but that 87% of this usage (4,148 articles) was in the 20 years between 1985 and 2005. Before the
1980s, it is rare to find homelessness used to designate a social problem. The distinction here is use of homelessness to refer
to a person or some people who are homeless versus its use in reference to a general societal situation, as a social problem or
set of social problems. Source: analysis carried out by author.
- Canadian Council on Social Development, 1987. Homelessness in Canada; Final Report of the National Enquiry to Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Ottawa: The Council. CMHC, 1987. Homelessness in Canada. Ottawa: Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Government of Ontario, 1988. More Than Just a Roof: Action to End Homelessness in
Ontario: Final Report. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Housing, Minister's Advisory Committee on the International Year of
Shelter for the Homeless. Hulchanski, J. D., 1987. Who are the Homeless?: What is Homelessness? The Politics of Defining
an Emerging Policy Issue. Vancouver: School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia.
While definitions used in other countries or unions may be predicated of different sociopolitical conditions and perspectives than present in Canada, it is useful to
review these constructs in our efforts to better appreciate the limitations in our own perceptual frameworks. To that end, the following passages in this section are cited for purposes of review.
In particular, see the European Typology on Homelessness and housing exclusion, applied among member states in the European Union.
On the base of an analysis of the definitions of homelessness currently in use, first a change of the notion
"homelessness" to "houselessness" is proposed. Houseless persons are then defined as those sleeping rough or
using public or private shelters. To better understand the causes of houselessness, its environment is involved
in this classification under the notion of inadequate shelter. This comprises the following non-exclusive categories:
risk of houselessness, concealed houselessness and substandard housing situations. This classification has the advantage
to be adaptable to regional and national differences, while at the same time providing a global basis for data collection
TITLE 42 > CHAPTER 119 > SUBCHAPTER I > § 11302
§ 11302. General definition of homeless individual
- (a) In general
For purposes of this chapter, the term "homeless" or "homeless individual or homeless person"1 includes—
- (1) an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and
adequate nighttime residence; and
- (2) an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is—
- (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide
temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
- (B) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to
be institutionalized; or
- (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping
accommodation for human beings.
- (b) Income eligibility
- (1) In general
A homeless individual shall be eligible for assistance under any program provided by this chapter, only if the individual complies
with the income eligibility requirements otherwise applicable to such program.
- (2) Exception
Notwithstanding paragraph (1), a homeless individual shall be eligible for assistance under title I of the Workforce
Investment Act of 1998 [29 U.S.C. 2801 et seq.].
- (c) Exclusion
For purposes of this chapter, the term "homeless" or "homeless individual" does not include any individual imprisoned
or otherwise detained pursuant to an Act of the Congress or a State law.
European Typology on Homelessness and housing exclusion
FEANTSA has developed a European Typology of Homelessness and housing exclusion
(ETHOS) as a means of improving understanding and measurement
of homelessness in Europe, and to provide a common "language" for transnational exchanges on homelessness. This typology was launched in 2005 and is used for different purposes - as
a framework for debate, for data collection purposes, for policy purposes, monitoring purposes, and in the media.
It is important to note that this typology is an open exercise which makes abstraction of existing legal definitions in the EU members states. ETHOS is a "home"-based
definition that uses the physical, social and legal domains to create a broad typology of homelessness and housing exclusion. ETHOS classifies homeless people according
to their living situation:
- rooflessness (without a shelter of any kind, sleeping rough)
- houselessness (with a place to sleep but temporary in institutions or shelter)
- living in insecure housing (threatened with severe exclusion due to insecure tenancies,
eviction, domestic violence)
- living in inadequate housing (in caravans on illegal campsites, in unfit housing, in
Homelessness is perceived and tackled differently according to the country. ETHOS was developed through a review of existing definitions of homelessness and the realities of
homelessness which service providers are faced with on a daily basis. ETHOS categories therefore attempt to cover all living situations which amount to forms of homelessness
across Europe. Different target groups (children, women, men, older people from different ethnic or immigrant populations and with different disabilities/difficulties) can
come under one or more of these categories. ETHOS was slightly revised between 2005 and 2007 to reflect emerging realities and to improve the labelling.
The ETHOS approach confirms that homelessness is a process (rather than a static phenomenon) that affects many vulnerable households at different points in their lives. The 2005
Review of Statistics on Homelessness in Europe of the European Observatory on Homelessness states that "Policies to address homelessness include three main elements prevention,
accommodation and support. Prevention policies imply an understanding of both the causes of homelessness and the pathways into homelessness. Accommodation provision involves
elements of emergency or temporary accommodation and transitional accommodation as well as permanent housing (with or without support). Increasingly policies to address homelessness
recognise the need for support as well as housing and that support is needed for people who are homeless, have been homeless or may become homeless. This understanding of the policy
basis indicates the need for an understanding of the process of homelessness and housing deprivation as well as the profiles of homeless people. ETHOS has been developed using this
Strategies and Solutions in the United States
National Alliance to End Homelessness
Interactive Tool | 2 May 2010
This map serves as a geographic database of the 234 state, regional, and local ten year plans to end homelessness that have been
collected by the Alliance. Click the image to engage the map.
- Ten Year Plan Database
Interactive Tool | May 5, 2010 This interactive spreadsheet serves as a database of the 234 Plans that
have been collected by the Alliance.
- Beyond Planning: Denver, CO
Solutions Brief | April 8, 2010
Denver, CO has experienced tremendous success in implementing its Ten
Year Plan to End Homelessness, much of which can be attributed to a few core
practices. A slate of those practices are examined here.
- Ten Year Plan Timeline
Interactive Tool | January 16, 2010 This timeline, released in conjunction with A Shifting Focus: What's In Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness, documents the evolution of 10-year plans from
the development of the first plan in 1998 to the present.
- A Shifting Focus: What's New in Community Plans to End Homelessness
Report | September 3, 2009 This Data Update provides an updated content analysis of the 234 completed
community plans to end homelessness. In addition to illustrating of the growth
of 10-year plans, this update will compare the content of earlier (first 90
plans) and later plans (144).
- A New Vision: What is in Community Plans to End Homelessness?
Report | November 1, 2006 A New Vision: What is in Community Plans to End Homelessness? examines the
content of Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness from across the country. This
study reveals that 90 communities have completed plans that dramatically
transform their homeless assistance systems and analyzes the strength of the
plans by calculating a score for each strategy based on the likelihood that it
would be implemented.
"Criminalizing Crisis" Reveals Disturbing Trends in City Policies
A report released by the Law Center on Tuesday shows that more and more cities are making it illegal to be homeless. Criminalizing Crisis analyzes local policies in 234 cities and demonstrates the startling trend
toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons' survival, including eating and sleeping in public.
With poverty at record levels and as many as 3.5 million people homeless each year, a report released by the Law Center on Tuesday shows that more and more cities are making it illegal to be homeless. Criminalizing
Crisis analyzes local policies in 234 cities and demonstrates the startling trend toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons' survival, including eating and sleeping in public.
Criminalizing Crisis, a report released today by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, reveals that local laws criminalizing homelessness are increasing in cities across the country.
Of the 234 cities surveyed, the report shows that:
- 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places;
- 33 percent prohibit sitting/lying in public places;
- 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places; and
- 53 percent prohibit begging in public places.
Among the 188 cities reviewed for both this report and the Law Center's 2009 report, major trends include the following:
- 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling;
- 7 percent increase in prohibitions on sleeping; and
- 10 percent increase in prohibitions on loitering.
Law Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis said, "It's unconscionable to punish homeless people for their misfortune, but it's also irrational fiscal policy, as this report illustrates."
According to Criminalizing Crisis, supportive housing and shelter are much more cost-effective than applying the criminal justice system to homelessness. Cost studies in 13 cities and states
reveal that, on average, cities spend $87 per day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for shelter. A Utah study shows that the annual cost for providing a homeless person supportive housing
is $6,100, compared to $35,000 to jail them in a state prison.
The report also documents constructive alternatives to criminalization that some cities are using to address homelessness, and
includes a comprehensive advocacy manual for advocates and homeless persons to grade the severity of criminalization laws in their cities and pursue constructive alternatives that address the root
causes of homelessness and protect the rights and dignity of all people.
Real solutions to homelessness must be permanent, not short-term crisis responses. They must address the shortage of affordable
housing, the inadequate incomes to meet the most basic needs, and the need for treatment for people suffering from disabilities.
Long term solutions must:
- Ensure Affordable Housing
Provide subsidies to make existing housing affordable; create additional affordable housing through rehabilitation and new
- Ensure Adequate Income
Ensure that working men and women earn enough to meet basic needs, including housing; ensure that those able to work have access
to jobs and job training; ensure that those not able to work are provided assistance adequate to meet basic needs, including housing.
- Ensure Social Services
Ensure access to social services, including health care, child care, mental health care and substance abuse treatment.
- Prohibit Discrimination
Prohibit laws that discriminate against homeless people, including laws that specifically target them or activities they must
engage in because they are homeless.
Real solutions should also prevent people from becoming homeless. New policies that address the underlying structural
causes of homelessness must coincide with specific prevention policies to stem the rising tide of homelessness.
Increasingly, homelessness affects not only the very poor, but also working and middle class Americans. Middle class families
are increasingly unable to buy, or even rent, their own homes. Middle class workers are facing rising unemployment coupled
with declining assistance from "safety net" programs.
Real solutions integrate homeless people into society and promote self-sufficiency. For example, policies that produce
affordable housing through employing homeless people strengthen the economy while helping to end homelessness.
Polls consistently reveal that the majority of the American public supports ending homelessness. According to the polls,
the majority of the public understands the underlying causes of homelessness and would pay additional taxes to fund increased aid.
Housing is a basic human right. Upholding it in the U.S. means ending homelessness.
Congress established the Interagency Council on Homelessness in 1987 with the passage of
the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. The Council is responsible for providing Federal leadership for activities to assist
homeless families and individuals.
The major activities of the Council include:
- planning and coordinating the Federal government's activities and programs to assist
homeless people, and making or recommending policy changes to improve such
- monitoring and evaluating assistance to homeless persons provided by all levels of
government and the private sector;
- ensuring that technical assistance is provided to help community and other organizations
effectively assist homeless persons; and
- disseminating information on Federal resources available to assist the
What is CATCH?
- CATCH is an acronym for Charitable Assistance To Community’s Homeless. CATCH is also a verb which means to
keep from falling.
- CATCH is a community, collaborative effort, administrated by the City of Boise, and designed to assist homeless families with children. This
effort is sponsored by community partners, including the United Way, local businesses, local communities of faith, and the City of Boise. CATCH is a
program which provides housing first, and then coordinates social services and case management to address the issues which contributed to the episode of family homelessness.
How Does CATCH Work?
- Local businesses and congregations of faith agree to sponsor a family for
the terms of a lease (up to a maximum of twelve months). The leases are signed
between the family and a landlord, and typically range in market value from
$500- $800, depending on the size of the unit needed.
- The City of Boise covers all of the administrative costs of CATCH operation,
which includes the case management of CATCH families.
Become a CATCH Partner
- If you, your business, or faith community would like to sponsor a homeless
family with children, please contact us at CATCH@cityofboise.org.
- We appreciate opportunities to present the program to organizations, small groups, and committees or boards. We're also happy to meet with individuals to
answer questions about CATCH.
If You Are Homeless With Children...
- Please contact any of our partnering agencies, who can connect you with immediate services and determine
if you are eligible for CATCH (see Eligibility Criteria). These agencies can also provide you with a CATCH
A Homeless Initiative That Works...
Home Again A 10-year plan to end homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County
Making the homeless system work better
To move from the institutionalization of homelessness, the institutions that
serve homelessness must change.
Rather than shuffling homeless people from service to service and back to
the street, the aim of all government agencies, nonprofits, and institutions in
the homeless system must be to first get homeless people into permanent
This 10-year plan is built on three principles:
- Focus on the most chronically homeless populations.
- Streamline access to existing services in order to prevent and reduce
- Concentrate resources on programs that offer measurable results.
These principles emphasize a "housing first" methodology for ending chronic
homelessness and focus on shortening the length of homelessness experienced
by anyone in our community.
Focusing on housing first, however, does not mean that housing is the only
service offered. For many this housing will come in the form of permanent
supportive housing, which offers social and clinical services to residents
depending upon their level of need. These needs include medical care, mental
health services, rent assistance, or other kinds of support. Research has
shown that addressing other life issues in the context of permanent housing
is the best way to affect permanent change in the lives of homeless people, be
they chronically homeless adults or homeless families. [...] [Read more]
Strategies and Solutions in Canada
A Rights-Based Approach to Housing
Implementing Ontario's Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy Bill 140
The Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 2011 is the legislation that has been proposed to implement Ontario's
Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy. It is
was considered by the Standing Committee on Justice Policy on 31 March 2011 Official Report Journal of Debates (Hansard), Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 2011.
Cognizant of the unique human rights crisis of homelessness in Canada, the previous UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, conducted an important
Mission to Canada in 2008. He urged the adoption of provincial and federal housing strategies based on the right to adequate housing.
And See: A Summary of UN Human Rights Bodies' Recommendations for a Housing Strategy.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission also conducted an extensive consultation into human rights, housing and homelessness in Ontario and released an important Report entitled
RIGHT AT HOME: Report on the consultation on human rights and rental housing in Ontario; this report contains important
recommendations for an Ontario housing strategy based on human rights.
3.8. The Ontario Human Rights Commission
During this consultation, the Commission was repeatedly reminded of its important function in advancing human rights policy, engaging in strategic
initiatives (such as inquiries or litigation) to address systemic discrimination, and in raising public awareness of human rights and rental housing. The Commission
takes these responsibilities seriously given the international protections of the right to housing and the fact that housing is essential to ensuring dignity,
inclusion and full participation for all.
38. The Commission will consider the strategic use of its mandate, which includes public inquiries, interventions and applications, to address
situations of discrimination related to rental housing in light of the broad systemic context identified in this consultation and the ICESCR.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which should be interpreted as providing at least the
same level of protection of human rights as international human rights treaties ratified by Canada, may apply in the framing of a rights-based housing strategy. See the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in
Slaight communications inc. v. Davidson,  1 S.C.R. 1038 (4 May 1989) .
The content of Canada's international human rights obligations is, in my view, an important indicia of the meaning of the "full benefit of the Charter's protection". I believe that the Charter should generally
be presumed to provide protection at least as great as that afforded by similar provisions in international human rights documents which Canada has ratified.
See the Notice of Application (26 May 2010) in the important Charter Challenge demanding that
Ontario and the Federal Government enact rights-based housing strategies Court File No. CV-10-403688, Ontario Supreme Court of Justice.
The following are strategies that have been adopted elsewhere, with clear goals and timelines and inclusive processes of participation and accountability to stakeholders:
The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008 – 2013. (8.08)
- United Kingdom
Sustainable Communities: settled homes; changing lives
A strategy for tackling homelessness. (3.05)
• Summary | One Year On: 2006
Housing (Scotland) Act 2001
Ten Tear Homelessness Plan for Wales 2009-2019 (2009)
Finnish Government's Programme to Reduce Long-term Homelessness 2008-2011
ESTRATÉGIA NACIONAL PARA A INTEGRAÇÃO DE PESSOAS SEM-ABRIGO: PREVENÇÃO, INTERVENÇÃO E ACOMPANHAMENTO 2009-2015
The Government's Homelessness Strategy – A Strategy to Reduce Homelessness in Denmark 2009-2012 (10.09)
homelessness: multiple faces,
multiple responsibilities – a strategy to combat homelessness and exclusion from the housing market (10.07)
The Pathway To A Permanent Home: Strategy to prevent and combat homelessness
Grants, examples, collaborations and participants 2006 (7.06)
- the Netherlands
Strategy Plan for Social Relief (7.02.06)
French Homeless and Poorly Housed People National Strategy
Chantier national prioritaire 2008 - 2012 pour l’hébergement et l’accès au logement des personnes sans-abri ou mal logées
The Road Home - The Australian Government White Paper on Homelessness (21.12.08)
• The Road Home: A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness (full PDF)
• Executive Summary
- United States of America
Opening Doors: federal strategic plan
to prevent and end homelessness 2010
Municipalities are also basing their strategies to end homelessness on the right to adequate housing. See for example, Bring Los Angeles Home: The Campaign to End Homelessnes.
Toward a National Housing Strategy
Bill C-304 was before the Parliament of Canada awaiting debate and third reading, with the committed support of the majorithy of parliamentarians, when
the Conservative Government was defeated on a Motion of Non-Confidence on March 25, 2011. Introduced as a private member's bill by Libby Davies, MP, the bill
had been significantly enhanced by amendments adopted by the
Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of
Persons with Disabilities to conform with key recommendations from UN Human Rights bodies for a national housing strategy in Canada based on the right to adequate housing. The Bill includes:
- targets and timelines for the elimination of homelessness
- a process for the independent review, addressing and reporting of complaints about possible violations of the right to adequate housing;
- a process for review and follow-up on any concerns or recommendations from United Nations human rights bodies with respect to the right to adequate housing;
- a key role for civil society organizations, including those representing groups in need of housing, and Aboriginal communities in designing
the delivery, monitoring and evaluation of programs required to implement the right to adequate housing;
- provision of financial assistance to those who cannot otherwise afford housing.
The Bill had also been improved by an amendment from the Bloc Quebecois recognizing Quebec's unique commitment to the rights in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
and its ability to participate in a national strategy through its own programs and policies.
[...] homelessness in the early 21st century encompasses issues and
trends that weave throughout Canadian society:
- Poverty is a common factor in new homelessness. The development of a large
income and wage gap continues to threaten "at risk" Canadians, even during
a time of strong wealth creation. The diversification of poverty and homelessness
in Canada has resulted in a major demographic shift in homeless
Canadians from the single male clients that once dominated homeless shelters.
Women, children, students, immigrants, the mentally ill and the formerly
middle class are all part of the homeless population of most Canadian cities.
- Lack of national leadership has confused both public and private response
to issue, resulting in propensity toward short-term crisis management over
long-term strategic investment. Until recently, for example, the bulk of
federal funding has been applied to crisis management – homeless shelters
– not systemic reforms or strategic solutions. The result is a national
patchwork of programs and standards, some of which do little except to
manage homelessness and its causes. The federal government has positioned
itself as a publicly-funded philanthropist that gives money but is
not ultimately responsible for outcomes, standards or long-term solutions.
- The $4.5 to $6 billion annual cost of homelessness in Canada, as estimated
by this report, is systemic: the expense of warehousing the homeless over
the past decade has spilled over into emergency services, community organizations,
non-profits, the criminal justice system – all have incurred extra
expense in responding to unprecedented growth in homelessness. Extra cost
associated with homelessness have largely been hidden within the budgets
of public and private service providers, and therefore the cumulative cost
of Canada’s homeless and "at risk" populations remains unknown. Why
the total cost of homelessness in Canada remains officially undetermined,
along with a current estimate of the number of homeless people in Canada,
and inter-governmental strategy on housing affordability and homelessness,
underlines the aforementioned deficit in leadership and policy.
- Consequent strain on stakeholder organizations – NGOs, non-profits, agencies,
public health providers – has diminished the effectiveness of independent
innovators on homelessness and poverty, often due to government
pullback, resulting in organizational fatigue and less effective civil society
response on critical issues.
The provincial and federal government response to homelessness over the last
decade has been conflicted, sometimes bordering on outright neglect. In practical
terms, absenteeism on housing and homelessness has exacerbated efforts to
reduce poverty in Canada.
Canada can no longer afford high incidence of homelessness. A paradigm
shift is required, not unlike the evolution in Canadian social policy from
the 1930s to the 1960s.
Why? Because, left unattended, the crisis will become worse for many of
those currently homeless, thereby creating a deeper and more entrenched underclass.
And if neglected, housing insecurity will continue to spread across Canada,
fueling the relatively new phenomena of suburban homelessness, accelerating urban
decay, and, in the face of record-setting housing prices, eroding the economic
well-being of millions of Canadians.
If neglected, housing insecurity will continue
to spread across Canada, fueling the relatively
new phenomena of suburban homelessness,
accelerating urban decay, and, in the face
of record-setting housing prices, ensure the
general economic erosion of millions of
What is the solution?
All homeless people have one thing in common - a lack of housing. Though we can debate what has caused the dramatic increase
in the number of people without housing, access to housing is still the first step in dealing with the problem.
There are three components to the solution:
- all homeless Canadians require adequate, affordable housing;
- all need enough money to live on (job, job training, adequate social assistance or pension); and
- some need support services (for health, mental health, addictions, or simply to help recover from a
long period of being houseless).
The causes of the problem are indeed complex, the solution is not. Housing, income and, for some, support services are
required. The services required depends upon the person involved. These can include housing support services, job
training, education, substance abuse treatment, physical and mental health care, counselling, and assistance in job search.
The problem is rooted in the failure of Canada, its provinces and municipalities, to address its poverty and affordable
Many social problems are lumped together under the label "homelessness." Although homelessness may not be only a housing
problem, it is always a housing problem. The gap between the cost of adequate housing and the income available to pay
for it is too large for many individuals and families Without stable and adequate housing, nothing else is likely to work.
If there were enough rental apartments that lower income people could afford and/or if the incomes of poor people (from
jobs or social assistance) were high enough, we would not have very many unhoused people in Canada. Whatever other
problems people without housing face, adequate, stable and affordable housing is a prerequisite to solving them. Once
people have housing, the rest of their life can improve. Adequate housing is a necessary, though not always a sufficient,
solution to the problem.
We must move beyond providing more emergency shelter beds, more sleeping bags, and more drop-in centres. Everyone needs a
private adequate place of their own. The problem cannot be solved until people without housing have settled into a stable
and adequate place to live. They can then devote more time to addressing other problems they face and society can better
target the non-housing forms of assistance some may require so as help them remain in their housing and become productive
members of society.
Prevention is also a key part of the solution. Each metropolitan area is slightly different in terms of how the local housing,
employment and real estate markets work, and the nature of the municipal and provincial services and regulations. How and why
people become unhoused can be identified and a range of preventative measures can be instituted to prevent further dehousing.
People who need to move back into the housing market, but who can only do so with help, must be given the opportunity to
receive the support they need.
We must have a national strategy to address and prevent the problem of any Canadians finding themselves without a place
to live. We must also have local strategies which complement and implement the national strategy.
The national and local strategies must address a range of issues including: preventative measures; rental housing market
options; social housing options; adequate social assistance benefits; job training and employment options; effective
prevention of discrimination in the housing and job markets; specialized services for people with mental illness, chemical
dependencies and other personal problems; and adequate settlement services for newcomers (immigrants, refugees and migrants).
In short, change needs to be made in the processes, national and local, which lead to dehousing and which make rehousing
difficult. Without such change, there is no long-term prevention and there is no solution.
Though there are no quick and easy solutions, effective progress can be made in numerous specific ways. As these are
implemented the number of people losing their housing and the numbers requiring rehousing will decline.
Raising the Roof is dedicated to working with and encouraging involvement from governments, businesses, community
and faith groups, service providers and homeless people to work on both developing the overall strategies and implementing
the specific solutions that will help end homelessness in Canada. [...] [Read full essay]
A NATIONAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING STRATEGY
The time is now
In November 1998, the mayors of Canada's largest cities passed a resolution
declaring homelessness a national disaster. Last year, the federal government
took encouraging first steps to help. Yet homelessness is only the most visible
symptom of a larger crisis - the acute and growing shortage of quality,
affordable housing in Canada. For every homeless person visible on the street,
up to four families are at risk of losing the roof over their heads.
Because of the immediate need, FCM urges swift action, along with the
development of a long-term solution involving a partnership of all orders of
government and industry.
FCM asks no single order of government or group to make this commitment
alone, yet someone must take the lead.
Why Canada Needs a National Affordable Housing Strategy
Rental Housing Production Is Not Keeping up with Demand
CMHC estimates Canada will need 45,000 new rental units each year for the
next 10 years just to keep up with current demand; at least half of these will
have to be affordable units. At the same time, construction of new rental units
has plummeted from 25,000 to fewer than 8,400 per year in the last decade.
Demolition and conversion eats away at the affordable rental stock, while many
affordable houses crumble.
The Result is Tight Rental Markets and High Rents
A lack of rental housing development has decreased vacancy rates in most
Canadian cities. In October 1999, 11 of 18 of Canada's large urban centres had
vacancy rates below 3 per cent, the level considered necessary for a competitive
Declining vacancy rates and increased demand is driving up rents. Ten of
Canada's 15 major metropolitan areas saw private apartment rents increase by at
least 20 per cent between 1989 and 1999. Some areas saw increases of up to 42
Household Incomes Are Not Keeping Up
Compared to these huge rent increases, household income growth has been
stagnant. Between 1989 and 1998, total real household income increased by only
2.7 per cent. Singles and single-parent families, two groups traditionally
associated with low incomes and high housing need, saw their real incomes
This Means Many Canadians Are In Need
In 1996, CMHC found 1.7 million Canadian households to be in what is called
"core need." One in five households spent more than 50 per cent of their income
on housing. The majority of these are households of aboriginals, senior
citizens, and families with children. Better economic conditions in the late
1990s have reduced the number of households on welfare. However, rent increases
continue to outpace income gains for both assisted households and the working
For the real people represented by the statistics, it is not only a housing
problem, it affects their health, productivity and well-being, as families find
it increasingly hard to find money for food, clothing, medicine and other basic
FCM's Goal - To Cut the Affordable Housing Crisis By Half Over The
Next Decade - How?
This can be accomplished by:
- Creating 20,000 new or acquired affordable units each year, for 10 years;
- Rehabilitating 10,000 affordable units a year, for 10 years; and
- Providing income or rental assistance to make units affordable for 40,000
incremental households per year, for 10 years.
A Role for All Who Wish To Act
The core proposal, for a flexible capital grants program, invites the
participation of all orders of government. However, it can also stand alone with
federal, municipal and private/non-profit partnership, where provinces or
territories do not wish to participate.
Immediate Action and Long-term Plans
A comprehensive response involving all orders of government, builders,
developers, lenders and non-profit housing organizations, will significantly
address immediate needs and provide the basis for a sustainable, long-term
A Three-part Strategy
- A 10-Year Flexible Federal Capital Grant Program
Grants would be provided to support local initiatives to produce affordable
units. Grants, along with municipal contributions and cost reductions, would
reduce the financing required for projects, reducing costs and rents for
Proposals would be developed at the local level, to fit the needs of
different communities in differing circumstances. Local responses would include
new development, acquisition and rehabilitation to preserve and expand existing
affordable rental stock, and grants to facilitate assisted home ownership
initiatives for low- and moderate-income families, where this is the local need.
Priority would be assigned to proposals bringing significant resources to the
- Measures To Attract New Investment
The following relatively simple measures would begin to encourage a long-term
response to future needs by the private sector and non-profit developers, in
partnership with government:
- Tax measures: These would include an offset of the Goods and Services Tax
on new rental housing development, allowing rental investors to qualify for the
small-business deduction, restoration of CCA pooling to encourage capital
reinvestment in new properties and the creation of Labour Sponsored Investment
- Means to strengthen CMHC's role: These would include customized mortgage
underwriting for non-profit developers; reduced-cost CMHC mortgage insurance;
affordable housing goals for CMHC's mortgage-backed securities business; use of
CMHC profits to fund the federal component of the national housing strategy; and
policy changes to allow equity in existing social housing to be leveraged.
Provincial/Territorial Shelter and Rental Assistance Initiatives
Provinces and territories are targeted for these initiatives as they are
already active in income assistance programs. However, where provinces prefer to
participate in a capital investment initiative that option would be encouraged.
Provincial and territorial governments are asked to enhance income support
programs and provide rental assistance to include the working poor, by:
- Enacting shelter allowances, including initiatives to address inadequate
levels of shelter support within existing welfare programs; and
- Providing rent supplements stacked onto units receiving capital grants, to
lower the level of grant required to produce affordable housing. [...]