The Homeless Service System Was Never Intended to Solve All Housing Problems

The homeless service delivery system in your community was never intended to solve ALL housing problems.

It is NOT the low-income housing system.

If the homeless service system tries to take care of affordable housing needs of low-income persons at the same time as addressing the housing needs of homeless persons, it is too much to handle. Prioritization of resources becomes difficult, if not impossible. Preference is likely to be given to those where their “only issue” is seen as their poverty. Waiting lists will become so large they will become meaningless and result in absolutely no meaningful action. Uproar and dissatisfaction will continue with the state of homelessness. The rate of economic poverty is always greater than the rate of homelessness, therefore homeless people are at a chronic disadvantage in this type of design.


It is NOT the seniors housing system.

If the homeless service system tries to take care of the housing needs of an ageing population – low or moderate income – at the same time as it takes care of homelessness, then expect homelessness to grow. I can’t think of one community that wouldn’t prefer to take care of the housing needs that remind them of their parents over the housing needs of people that do not resemble the majority of people they know in their life (homeless people). Politically, housing seniors is a win while housing homeless people is a loss. A prevalent argument is that society owns its oldest citizens for their contributions to our current life and welfare. What do homeless people owe us? They would argue nothing – or at least less.

There’s more.

Homeless service systems were never designed to take care of all of the housing needs of ex-offenders or persons discharged from hospitals or mental health facilities. Nor was the homeless service system ever designed to be the housing answer for youth ageing out of care.

But it continues to be.

First of all, we need to stop creating new fancy programs – at the expense of other homeless programs – to take care of shortcomings of other systems and start holding those other systems more accountable.

We need to rail against the injustice of a “justice” system that penalizes people even more with homelessness upon release unless that system is willing to provide resources to address the homelessness it creates. Otherwise it punishes not just the person that violated the law, but homeless service providers as well.

We need to make sure that people who become homeless as a result of longer stays in hospital or psychiatric facilities are not put onto the doorstep of homeless service providers to address. There is no reason why there cannot be further integration upstream between discharge planners and homeless service providers. Discharge planners can play a critical role in solving homelessness at the point of discharge.

We need youth services to stop making the graduation to adulthood a stepping-stone into homelessness where the homeless service delivery system is burdened with the cost and service demands..


It must be noted that some systems are doing a great job to take care of their responsibility. For example, across America the VA is investing in programs at a level suitable for ending homelessness amongst veterans, more or less. On the “more” side of the equation, there is money, a strong sense of prioritization, and a mission driving towards sustained change. On the “less” side, it has to be acknowledged that persons dishonourably discharged from service are not afforded the same opportunities to access resources for veterans, and it falls upon the “regular” homeless service delivery system to address these needs.


There is a strong focus on ending homelessness nowadays. This is a great thing as we shift from managing homelessness to ending homelessness. But we will never get there if we keep thinking the homeless service delivery system is responsible for addressing all of the housing needs of every person in community, or every shortcoming or creation of homelessness in other systems.

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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