In ending homelessness, we need to work with urgency but not with haste. We need to focus on that which we know, not that which we think. And regardless of whether we are operating a shelter, outreach program, day service, Rapid Re-Housing or Permanent Supportive Housing program – or any other program for that matter – we need to ensure we are aligned to the same 5 core principles of the work.
Principle 1: No requirements for housing readiness
Two criteria need to be met for someone to be housing ready. 1. They are homeless. 2. They are breathing. That’s it. There are no programs that people need to graduate through or transitional or provisional housing stays where people demonstrate acquisition of skills. The hard work comes once we get the person or family housed to provide them the supports necessary for them to stay housed. We need to progressively engage and build upon their strengths to make this possible.
Principle 2: Client choice and supported self determination
We need to fiercely support choice within realistic parameters of what is possible. Choice is not carte blanche. But choice must be meaningful and centred on the needs and wishes of the individual or family. Do you present service and housing options to program participants or do you create a service pathway that they must follow? Is the person you are supporting at the centre of the decision-making or are they a bystander to decisions that are made for them?
Principle 3: Supporting a recovery orientation
It is our duty to promote mental health recovery. It is our duty to practice from a harm reducing lens. It is our duty to understand the supports necessary to help people recover from the experience of homelessness. For many – especially those that have been homeless for many years of their lives – they actually need to grieve the loss of their routines and habits they once participated in while homeless in order to forge ahead with a healthy, new reality of being housed.
Principle 4: Individualized support plan and client-centred supports
No two support plans should ever look the same because no two people are ever the same. We must push back against designing programs with people to work their way through and instead focus on customizing the supports to the needs of each individual or family. We must reject linear, milestone, one-size fits all approaches to services and appreciate that each journey that progresses to life stability will be unique, often non-linear and person specific.
Principle 5: Promoting social and community integration and meaningful activities
The people we engage need to integrate with the community and neighbourhood fabric within which they find themselves in a post-homelessness reality. If the support worker is the only support they have or if the person is socially isolated, we are doing the support part wrong. People need activities to look forward to, participate in and provide fulfillment.