Why A Lottery Approach to Service and Housing Access Will Never End Homelessness

Should a family be lucky to receive a housing voucher or chosen based upon their need? Should a man get access to shelter this evening based upon his need or because he was lucky enough to be chosen from a line outside the shelter? Should scarce resources be first come, first served; or, should resources be aligned to those that need it the most? If you don’t have enough resources is it better to target them to those who need them the most or those lucky enough to receive them?

Get rid of luck.

Use your data.


The time has come to triage who needs services the most, not who is lucky enough (or capable enough) to receive them. The time has come to get rid of waiting lists and start using priority lists. The time has come to stop having men and women line up for shelter in the hopes of being accepted for the night.

When we triage and prioritize, we more intelligently invest our resources into those that need them the most. When we are more selective on who needs emergency services the most, we can do a better job focusing on getting people out of shelter and into housing.

I get how and why lottery approaches started. I get how on the surface it appears to be a more fair way of allocating access when there isn’t enough to meet demand. But it never critically asks if the reason why we don’t have enough resources is because of how entry was designed. Furthermore, it the construct of “fairness” and “luck” are not interchangeable. What we need to do is ensure that those that need services the most are the ones that get them first.

Until such time that you get out of luck and into strategic prioritization, expect there to be an overwhelming demand on all emergency services, especially shelter. Expect that service providers will tell you they can’t possibly do coordinated access or common assessment. Expect that service providers will want more resources invested into emergency services than the solution – housing with supports. And expect that homelessness will only get worse – the overall number will grow and the depth of need will also grow.


Lottery approaches will never end homelessness.

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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