Housing First Approach for youth
Housing First programs – including the Pathways model and the At Home/Chez Soi project – specifically prioritize chronically homeless persons with significant mental health and addictions issues. While the question, “Does Housing First work for adults?” has effectively been answered; whether and how it works for youth still remains an askable question.
It is argued here that for young people, the need to get them into housing with appropriate supports as soon as possible is paramount. We know from research that the longer a young person is absolutely homeless or comes to rely on emergency services, the greater their entrenchment in the street youth lifestyle, the more estranged they become from mainstream services, the worse their health (mental health and addictions) becomes, and the greater likelihood of their experiencing crime and violence, as well as sexual and economic exploitation.
“A ‘one size fits all’ approach proposed by some advocates is actually quite limiting and ignores the incredible variability in needs and circumstances of young people who are homeless”.
The Core Principles of Housing First for Youth
1. Immediate Access to Housing with No Preconditions
Key to the Housing First philosophy is that individuals and families are not required to first demonstrate that they are ‘ready’ for housing. At the same time, housing is not conditional on sobriety or abstinence. Immediate access to appropriate housing and supports is particularly crucial for young people and every effort should be made to divert them from long stays in emergency shelters.
2. Youth Choice and Self-Determination.
Housing First is a rights-based, client-centred approach that emphasizes client choice in terms of housing and supports.
• Housing – Young people are able to exercise some choice regarding the location and type of housing they receive (e.g. neighbourhood, congregate setting, scattered site, etc.).
• Supports – Young people have choices in terms of what services they receive and when to start using services.
• Access to opportunities for education and training – For a long-term and sustainable impact on the lives of young people, they should be encouraged and supported to (re)engage in education and, where appropriate, employment training.
• Harm Reduction - A core philosophy of virtually all approaches to Housing First is that there should be no requirement of sobriety or abstinence. Harm reduction aims to reduce the risks and harmful effects associated with substance use and addictive behaviours for the individual, the community and society as a whole, without requiring abstinence
3. Positive Youth Development Orientation.
The focus of Housing First for youth is not merely a successful transition to independent living, but rather, is on supporting a healthy transition to adulthood. Accommodation and supports must first be designed and implemented in recognition of the developmental needs and challenges of youth and second, foster and enable a transition to adulthood and wellness based on a positive strengths-based approach.
4. Individualized and Client-Driven Supports.
A client-driven approach recognizes that all young people are unique individuals and so are their needs. Once housed, some people will need few, if any, supports while other people will need supports for the rest of their lives (this could range from case management to assertive community treatment). Supports may address housing stability, health and mental health needs and life skills.
5. Social and Community Integration.
Part of the Housing First strategy is to help people integrate into their community and this requires socially supportive engagement and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities. This means housing should not lead to the stigmatization or isolation of clients; young people should have opportunities for social and cultural engagement; support for family reconnection, and opportunities for participation in meaningful activities through employment, vocational and recreational activities.
See Appendix A or go to the Homelessness Hub