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Older people and Canadian Strategies on Homelessness

By: Rachel Barken

Older homelessness has been identified as a significant concern among researchers and service providers alike. Those working in shelters, for example, are confronted with the realities of increasing numbers of older people experiencing homelessness in their everyday work. Yet, while policymakers have devoted considerable attention to homelessness, they have typically focused on homelessness among youth, young adults, and young families. Suggested responses—designed with younger people in mind—are often organized around employment and educational opportunities. While researchers are beginning to address the unique challenges and needs of older people experiencing homelessness, we do not know whether this knowledge has translated into policy directives.

At a broad level, Canadian strategies on homelessness are organized around the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Through the HPS, the federal government funds and supports local initiatives on homelessness. Recently the HPS has embraced a housing first model, in which homeless people are provided immediately with housing followed by other forms of support. This comes on the heels of At Home/Chez Soi, a nationwide demonstration testing the effects of housing first in five Canadian cities. Results from At Home/Chez Soi suggest that housing first is effective for re-housing large segments of the homeless population, and that it is less costly than emergency responses.

In addition to this broad response, various frameworks on homelessness exist throughout Canada at the federal, provincial, territorial, regional, and municipal levels. Heterogeneity in responses to homelessness likely reflect Canada’s vast social geography, with regional or place differences impacting homelessness in diverse ways.

Yet, despite all these responses to homelessness—and despite the increasing urgency of homelessness among older people—we know little about the suitability of strategies on homelessness for an aging population. What is the overarching message of Canadian strategies on homelessness, and what do they mean for older people? Addressing these questions, to determine what responses currently exist, is a necessary first step in moving forward with policies and practices that respond to older homeless people’s unique needs. From here, designing and implementing well-informed strategies—that are grounded in the realities of older people experiencing homelessness—could help to reduce and ultimately eliminate older homelessness.

Click here to read the policy review: Aging and Homelessness in Canada – A review of frameworks and strategies

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