A Big Step Forward Ending Homelessness in Canada

Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy was released today. It is the biggest overhaul of homelessness funding in Canada in the almost two decades that federal funding has been available for homelessness in the country. There is plenty to be excited about – a doubling of homelessness funding and an extension of the program to 10 years to name a couple.

I am most excited about three things that all needed to be inter-related if success is to be achieved: that communities must be accountable to achieve a 50% reduction in chronic homelessness, that there is a data-driven performance-based approach, and the requirement to use coordinated access.

For my readers outside Canada, some elements of this will be familiar to how your funding works. But I know of no place that requires a 50% reduction in chronic homelessness, even though many jurisdictions place an emphasis on reducing chronic homelessness. A big high five to Canada's leaders for having a target in this regard.

A community cannot reach a 50% reduction in chronic homelessness without a benchmark to compare it against. Whether we look at PIT count data, period-prevalence counts, or even service users throughout a year, a 50% reduction is nothing to sneeze at. The only way to achieve the target is to have an unrelenting focus on housing and an unprecedented use of data to measure progress against the aim, as well as target and prioritize who will get assistance. By putting requirements in place to reduce chronic homelessness by 50%, the days of first come, first served and "lucky to have a case manager who knows their way around the system" days are over. Furthermore, communities need to know a lot about the inflow into chronic homelessness to manage and target outflow out of chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness isn't an accident – it is manufactured by the policies, programs and approaches that a community has in place. In many instances the only way to get out of the current state of chronic homelessness is to redesign the entire system of care. That may be long overdue in some communities.

A data-driven, performance-based approach makes loads of sense. There are no "feel good" and "let's just try our best" approaches to ending homelessness. The data-driven approach may be a stretch-goal for some communities to start because any data-driven approach has to go from collecting data (which happens in various degrees now) to using data to refine program approaches. I think it also forces some communities to look more critically at the big picture. System performance measures become, in some ways, more critical than any specific project's performance. If you have one or two great programs, but eight or nine underperforming programs, the overall community performance will suffer. Data-driven, performance-based approaches make all investments accountable to outcomes.

Finally, I am excited to see the movement to Coordinated Access. While many US communities have felt the pain of moving towards this manner of doing business, there are tremendous lessons to be learned of how to leverage community resources to the maximum gain based upon presenting issues and circumstances of the individual program participant. Canadians experiencing homelessness can come to expect that they will be triaged and served based upon needs, not luck. Homeless service providers will be forced to help people get housing and supports through a system of care rather than around a system. Transparency will reign supreme in how priorities are set and matching occurs. Data moves to real(ish)-time when Coordinated Access is brought to scale. As I have blogged about before there are different approaches to putting this in action, each with relative pros and cons.

Kudos to the Government of Canada for reimagining what an end to homelessness can look like, for making significant investment to make it happen, and by making bold statements and targets to achieve the aim.

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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