Introduction to Housing First for Youth

What Works for Youth?

Housing models that have been developed for adults are being used with youth. Research suggests that youth need a different approach to be successful.

Across North America and elsewhere in the world, Housing First, a model of permanent housing for chronically homeless adults, is recognized as an effective approach to addressing homelessness. Housing First (HF) seeks to remove barriers for people by providing them with housing and wraparound supports to help them stay housed. 

Speaking on  Housing First, Dr. Sam Tsemberis discusses the origins of the model:

We’ve tried taking you to the hospital. We’ve tried getting you into an alcohol or drug treatment program and it hasn’t worked. What can we do differently? You tell us, what would work for you?’  And the person would say, Isn’t it obvious? I need a place to live. And as strange as that may sound (because it’s so painfully obvious) that was not a route available to them. [T]he solution was about direct access to housing. [So we] go back to those people on the street and offer them what they wanted most: A place to live. While that seemed obvious and simple, it had not really been done before.

Housing First is one of the few homelessness interventions that can be defined as a ‘best practice’, because of the weight of the research evidence that demonstrates its effectiveness.

Models and approaches that have been developed for adults who are homeless will not necessarily be successful when applied to youth. The At Home/Chez Soi project, the largest research study of the Housing First model involving communities across Canada, demonstrated that Housing First has a positive impact on housing stability. However, the findings were less definitive when it came to outcomes for young people. Without supports, many youth are not able to sustain exits from homelessness. Similar concerns have also been voiced by practitioners and young people themselves. HF4Y is an adaptation of the Housing First model that has been intentionally designed to support young people who experience, or are at risk of, homelessness.

Interventions to address homelessness such as Housing First are often designed for adults.  To make such interventions work for young people, we should start by asking, "What does any young person need to feel safe, thrive and succeed", and then build out our program models from there. (Gaetz, n.d.)

A ‘one size fits all’ approach does not address the variable needs and circumstances of young people who are experiencing homelessness. The HF4Y program model addresses this challenge by adapting the adult model to focus on the unique needs of each individual youth as they develop through adolescence into young adults.

Can Housing First work for youth? video

Stephen Gaetz explains how the adult HF model has been adapted for youth.

Programs to prevent youth homelessness must be designed to address their specific needs and life stage. And they must be put in place quickly before youth become entrenched in homelessness. There is compelling evidence that the sustained experience of homelessness is often negative, unhealthy, unsafe, traumatizing, and stressful for young people.  Negative outcomes can also be long lasting.

Conclusion

Research being conducted by COH and A Way Home Canada is showing promising results in adapting the adult model to work with young people. Through the work of the Making the Shift Demonstration Projects research is continuing to find out what works for youth. In upcoming lessons, you will learn about the core principles of HF4Y and the philosophy which can guide the development of HF4Y programs and other prevention and intervention strategies for youth homelessness. Importantly, you will explore strategies to address the service gaps and barriers that youth themselves have identified.