Can Housing First work for Youth?

Housing First is increasingly being seen as having a significant role to play in ending homelessness across the UK. It is most often advocated as effective for people who are experiencing multiple disadvantage and who may have been homeless for some time. A recent article by Professor Sarah Johnsen looks at why the approach is successful for those who have experienced adverse childhood experiences.

It is less common to hear about its use for young people who are homeless. And there are very mixed views as to whether the approach is appropriate for young people at all.

Capture HFIn Canada, a significant amount of work has been carried out to develop a framework for Housing First for Youth which was then further developed into a programme model guide. The work to develop the framework involved two bodies that work with young people who are homeless – the Street Youth Planning Collaborative (Hamilton) and the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness. The development of the model guide involved significant consultation and input from organisations that were using the Housing First for Youth framework for one or more services.

The starting point, outlined by Stephen Gaetz in the framework document, is that:

‘for young people the experience of homelessness – both in terms of its causes and conditions – is distinct from that which impacts adults, and therefore the solutions must reflect these important differences. We cannot take an established approach that works for adults and simply create Housing First “Junior” by changing the age mandate. If Housing First is to work for youth, it must be built upon our understanding of the developmental, social and legal needs of young persons.’

The goal of Housing First for Youth is defined as, not simply being about providing housing stability, but supporting young people as youth and facilitating a healthy transition to adulthood.

The five core principles of Housing First for Youth as developed in Canada are:

  1. A right to housing with no preconditions
  2. Youth choice, youth voice and self-determination
  3. Positive youth development and wellness orientation, including trauma-informed care
  4. Individualised, client-driven supports with no time limits
  5. Social inclusion and community integration

Housing First for Youth can be provided in a range of types of accommodation including scattered accommodation in the community, but also in temporary or permanent supported housing, or in a family setting.

The model guide sets out the range of support that should be provide as an integral part of Housing First for Youth:

  • housing support
  • support for health and well-being
  • support for accessing income and education
  • complementary support eg life skills, mentoring, family reconnection and advocacy
  • opportunities for meaningful engagement

The model guide notes that Housing First for Youth can be considered ‘both as an intervention or programme model, as well as a philosophy guiding a community’s response to youth homelessness.’ In the latter case, the principles of Housing First for Youth can:

‘provide a community or an organisation with a foundational set of values to guide goals, outcomes, collaboration and practice. In guiding community planning, it means that as a whole, the local system is designed around these core principles. All services should contribute either to the prevention of youth homelessness, or ensuring that young people have immediate access to housing and supports so that their experience of homelessness is brief and non-recurring.’

The model guide also includes some case studies including the Infinity and Home Fire projects run by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, an organisation which I was lucky to visit during my fellowship. Even in its early days, the young people accessing the Infinity project achieved very positive outcomes, in particular in relation to stable housing.

Whether you are sceptical about the potential or appropriateness of Housing First for Youth, or you are an enthusiast, the programme model guide is a useful and thought-provoking document and is well worth a read.


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