Introduction to Housing First for Youth

Shift from Crisis to Prevention

HF4Y is one part of a broader prevention approach to shift from a crisis response to upstream prevention.

The COH with AWHC have collaborated with partners in Canada and worldwide to develop a strategy to prevent and end youth homelessness. The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness (Gaetz et al., 2018) is a comprehensive and layered social policy framework that aims to define the path needed to end youth homelessness.

The Roadmap gives communities tools that can be tailored to local needs. Some of the important questions addressed by the Roadmap include:

  • What do we mean by youth homelessness prevention?
  • What can we do to prevent youth homelessness?
  • What does prevention look like in practice?

While most people agree that the prevention of homelessness should be the ultimate goal, there is not always agreement about what homelessness prevention means. Prevention starts early and upstream (before a young person finds themselves in a shelter). It emphasizes housing stabilization, values families and natural supports, includes intensive case management, promotes positive youth development, and builds job and life skills.

Youth homelessness prevention refers to policies, practices, and interventions that either (1) reduce the likelihood that a young person will experience homelessness, or (2) provide youth experiencing homelessness with the necessary supports to stabilize their housing, improve their wellbeing, connect with community, and avoid re-entry into homelessness. Youth homelessness prevention thus necessitates the immediate provision of housing and supports for youth experiencing homelessness, or the immediate protection of housing, with supports, for youth at risk of homelessness. Youth homelessness prevention must be applied using a rights-based approach and address the unique needs of developing adolescents and young adults. (Gaetz and Dej, 2017).

A prevention approach to youth homelessness means:

  1. We work upstream to support young people and their families when they are in crisis
  2. Fewer young people become homeless.
  3. Emergency supports are designed to divert youth from homelessness by addressing the underlying causes
  4. Housing and supports are available so youth can stay housed or rehoused as quickly as possible.

Watch a 3 1/2 minute excerpt from the video below for a discussion on youth homelessness prevention. (Clip starts at 05:25 and continues to 08:43)

Preventing Youth Homelessness in Canada - The Way Forward from The Homeless Hub on Vimeo.


What do you think?

Which of these interventions might be considered a prevention approach to youth homelessness?

  • A. Providing immediate access to housing to limit the time a youth spends in the shelter.
  • B. Educating youth about the rights and responsibilities of being a tenant.

Your answer:

(A) is a prevention strategy because the youth was provided with housing. 

(B) is a prevention strategy because supporting youth to handle problems with landlords could help them avoid eviction.

Reveal answer

Supports and services to prevent homelessness must include the offer of housing. The answer is (A). While (B) represents a worthwhile activity, it cannot be considered a prevention strategy because it doesn’t directly include an offer of housing.


Typology of Youth Homelessness Prevention

This typology identifies five categories of homelessness prevention in Canada. The ultimate goal of all prevention interventions is to stabilize housing, improve health and wellbeing, promote social inclusion, and contribute to better long-term outcomes.

The five categories work together to prevent homelessness. They include upstream efforts focused on structural prevention, to systems approaches that improve experiences in public institutions, to early interventions and housing stabilization efforts.

ending homelessness graphic

Figure 1: The Typology of Youth Homelessness Prevention. The focus of HF4Y is housing stabilization.

1) Structural Prevention

Legislation, policy, and investment to address risks of homelessness and increase social equality. Examples include legislating housing as a human right, adhering to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, poverty reduction strategies, and income supports.

2) Systems Prevention

Breaking barriers and enhancing access to services and supports. This includes transition supports for those leaving public institutions, such as correctional facilities, hospitals, and child protection systems.

3) Early Intervention

Strategies designed to act early and address the risk of homelessness, as well as provide crisis intervention to those who have recently experienced homelessness. Examples include effective outreach, coordinated intake and assessment, client-centered case management, and shelter diversion.

4) Eviction Prevention

A type of early intervention, programs designed to keep people stably housed and help them avoid eviction. Examples include landlord/tenant mediation, rental assistance, emergency financial assistance, and legal advice and representation.

5) Housing Stabilization

Supporting people who have experienced homelessness to find and maintain housing. This includes Housing First and supports to enhance health and well-being, education and employment, and social inclusion.