What’s a housing-first strategy?

The premise behind the “housing-first” theory is relatively simple: to eradicate homelessness, you must put people in homes and then provide those people with wrap-around support and services.

A bit of background

Canadian psychologist Sam Tsemberis introduced the concept of Housing First in the 1980 – and the idea has caught on. Municipalities across the world – including Guelph – have now adopted housing-first strategies.

Finland is probably the best example of how this theory works in action. It is the only country in Europe where homelessness is decreasing. In 2021, there were approximately 4,300 people without homes in Finland – down from 20,000 in the ’80s. The country plans to eliminate homelessness by 2027.

Finland views housing as a human right. Thanks to decades of housing-first policies and government projects, every individual in Finland has access to a home without any strings attached.

Housing First in Guelph

Wellington County Guelph introduced its Housing First program in 2015 through Welcome In Drop-In Centre and Wyndham House. In the early days, case managers supported an average of 45 youth and adult households experiencing chronic homelessness. Within three years, that dropped to 12 individuals maintaining housing stability with low-level supports.

Of course, housing supply remains a major barrier for the program. Since taking office in 2018, Mike Schreiner has been pushing vigilantly to build three game-changing local supportive housing projects to address Guelph’s housing and mental health needs. Mike also fought alongside the community to:

  • bring in millions of dollars of funding for Hope House Guelph and YMCA Guelph;
  • secure a million-dollar investment for The Grove Hub, a local, integrated youth services hub to ensure Guelph youth have access to the mental healthcare they need; and
  • work across party lines and jurisdictions to bring in more funding for The Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Team (IMPACT). IMPACT partners with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and local police to provide supportive mental health crisis care to those in need.

A Strategy to End Homelessness

These efforts are part of the Ontario Greens’ strategy to end homelessness in Ontario within the next decade. To do this, the Greens plan to:

  • Resume the homelessness census cancelled by the Ford government
  • Roll out the Housing First model to all jurisdictions
  • Engage with communities with lived experience with homelessness, as well as those facing systemic barriers, to advise on program development
  • Build 182,000 new permanently affordable community housing rental homes over the next decade, including 60,000 permanent supportive homes

Why it’s important

When people have a place of their own, they reclaim a sense of personal dignity, which permeates into other areas of their lives and the community. It becomes easier for a person to get and keep employment, escape physical or emotional violence, recover from mental illness, and integrate into the community.

It’s critical to make sure every Guelphite and Ontarian has a place to call home – and adequate health support, to build the Ontario we all want. To learn more about how the Ontario Greens will make that happen, visit gpo.ca.