1 Needs 6

1 shelter bed added to your system of care requires 6 housing resources per year to avoid warehousing people in shelter. And that, my friends, is the part of the discussion that is lost as communities wrestle with expansion of shelter, sanctioned campgrounds, safe parking, and other forms of sheltering. If you are going to add a shelter bed (and maybe you need to in your community), you need to think about how people are going to get out.

1:6 isn't the right ratio in all communities, but it is a good rule of thumb. If you want each bed in the shelter to turn over once every 60 days, then it will turn over 6 times in a year. Each turnover needs a pathway to a positive destination. You can fiddle with the ratio all you want, it will not change the fact that if you do not resource shelter exits at the same time that you resource shelter expansion, you are doomed.

What does this mean practically speaking? Shelter expansion - where warranted - needs to happen alongside a conversation about increases in Rapid ReHousing (or other time limited subsidies) and more Permanent Supportive Housing. If you don't, it is like the hospital that continues to make its emergency room larger without tackling the fact that each person in the emergency room is going to need access to a doctor, and some will need access to more intensive supports, treatment and care. A bigger emergency room without throughput to physicians isn't good healthcare, it is just more waiting space for people to get sicker. A bigger shelter system without throughput to housing resources isn't good sheltering, it is just more waiting space for people to get sicker too.

The era of ending homelessness has, at times, taken on an anti-shelter vibe. It should not. Shelters play a vital role in the crisis response system and are integral to ending homelessness. To play that role, however, the shelter must have an unrelenting housing focus in all that it does. Maybe it is possible to get the ratio to 1:8 or even 1:12 if there is considerable movement towards housing in the shelter. But that would require considerable investment in housing resources along with the investment in shelter.

We can quickly forget that shelters are intended to not be a destination, but rather, a process by which people get housed again. If you add a shelter bed without thinking about (and resourcing) pathways out of shelter, well, things in your community just got that much harder when it comes to ending homelessness. In summary, if you are having the community conversation about shelter expansion, make sure you are having the conversation about shelter exits at the same time. Otherwise, you have just made the job of ending homelessness more likely to be impossible than reality.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.


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