This section covers some of the actions and policies that the government has taken regarding the Houseless population. Specifically, the behavior that policy has attempted to deter. It also shows some of the available resources and initiatives to support individuals who are facing houselessness or instability. It also features an interview with a VPD officer regarding his experiences and training in engaging with individuals that are houseless.
The concept of criminalized houselessness relates to the actions taken by the government and law enforcement intended to reduce the visibility of houseless people. These practices and policies are meant to lower contact with or the presence of houseless individuals with the broader public. More information can be found here.
Public safety is the excuse for government and public officials when creating and enforcing punitive policies targeting houseless people. These measures punish houseless individuals or make it difficult for them to remain in the area, although the underlying issues remain unaddressed. Police services, courts, and correctional facilities are not equipped to support the issues unique to people experiencing poverty and houselessness.
Punitive measures such as anti-begging legislation, charges of vagrancy, and disturbing the peace are ways that houselessness has been criminalized and justified within the legal system.
Some examples of behavior often associated with the houseless population as a means of earning money take the form of panhandling, busking, or squeegeeing cars. These actions are generally the only way houseless individuals are able to earn some regular income. houseless individuals are often shut out of the labor market or unable to hold regular jobs and instead participate in these acts as subsistence strategies.
Houseless individuals are often in vulnerable positions relating to their mental health, substance use, personal security, and overall physical health. Such individuals are in need of more resources and help than available through most organizations. Local mental health services are reportedly underfunded and unable to cope with the entirety of the houseless population and others facing mental health challenges. The spillover and extra pressure falls on the courts, police, hospitals, and general public. They are not designed to substitute health and social services that are needed.
Community programs exist to provide houseless individuals with adequate supplies, food, and medical assistance. These programs may be funded by an individual or corporate donors, foundations or government grants. The activities may be carried out by staff, students and/or volunteers.
Shelters are equipped to help with a range of supportive services tailored according to gender, psychological needs, cultural background, sexual orientation, disability and location.
Housing First is a recovery-oriented approach to ending houselessness that centers on first moving people into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed. It also takes on a rights-based, client-centered approach that emphasizes choice in terms of housing and supports.
In addition to providing living space, there is an emphasis on supporting recovery within the Housing First initiative. A recovery orientation focuses on individual well-being and ensures that individuals have access to a range of supports that enable them to nurture and maintain social, recreational, educational, occupational, and vocational activities.
The initial intervention of Housing First is to help people obtain and maintain their housing, in a way that takes into account individual preferences and needs, and addresses housing suitability. Clinical supports include a range of supports designed to enhance the health, mental health, and social care of the client. Housing First teams often speak of a recovery-oriented approach to clinical supports designed to enhance well-being, mitigate the effects of mental health and addictions challenges, improve quality of life and foster self-sufficiency. Complementary supports are intended to help individuals and families improve their quality of life, integrate into the community and potentially achieve self-sufficiency.
Evidence of this approach’s efficacy comes from a randomized control trial where 1000 people participated in Housing First, and 1000 received 'treatment as usual’. The results were startling; even with the most chronically houseless people with complex mental health and addictions issues when put in housing with supports they stay housed. Over 80% of those who received Housing First remained housed after the first year. For many, use of health services declined as health improved. Involvement with the law declined as well. An important focus of the recovery orientation of Housing First is social and community engagement; many people were helped to make new linkages and to develop a stronger sense of self. More information at https://homelesshub.ca/solutions/housing-accommodation-and-supports/housing-first