Homelessness, Equity and Inclusion

Although structural and systemic racism may look different throughout the world, we see an undeniable global throughline between racism and homelessness, with homelessness disproportionately affecting groups who have been historically marginalized. The Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH), Funders Together to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), and the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network (CLELN) have a shared commitment to actively working to counter inequities, including racism, in the work to prevent and end homelessness. 

For our first Community of Impact webinar this year, we were joined by Donald Whitehead — Executive Director at National Coalition for the Homeless — a national network of people with lived experienced homelessness; activists; advocates; community-based and faith-based service providers; and others committed to preventing and ending homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights are respected and protected. The discussion was moderated by Stephanie Chan — Chief Strategy Officer at Funders Together to End Homelessness. Funders Together to End Homelessness provides critical resources and learning and networking opportunities to our members to increase their knowledge, capacity, and effectiveness in both the individual and collective work around housing justice as a way to end homelessness and housing instability.

Donald shared details about NCH’s Lived Experience Training Academy (LETA) — a development course designed to equip people with lived experience of homelessness to occupy leadership roles in advocacy work. LETA is led and designed by  Donald and his colleagues Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown, David Peery, Jeff Olivet, and Michelle Bush and informed by focus groups conducted with people with lived experience. LETA’s core curriculum includes the history of homelessness, financial literacy, organizing and advocacy incorporates themes such as accounting for trauma, self-care, and transformative leadership practices.

During a robust question and answer (Q&A) session, participants inquired about practical approaches to equitable partnership with people with lived experience, how to respond to resistance to DEI efforts, avoiding tokenism and ensuring that people with lived experience have decision-making power.

Donald highlighted that at NCH, centering lived expertise has become common practice and is embedded throughout NCH’s policies and practices. He said, “when we start a project, the first thing that we do is figure out how it affects people experiencing homelessness”. He shared insights about how homelessness, housing and public health agencies such as the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have taken a collective impact approach by coordinating their effort to learn what works and what doesn’t work. He also highlighted that agencies like NCH have proven that the centering of lived expertise and racial equity can both be prioritized in social change work. Donald suggested that practitioners in social change work be informed about traumas associated with lived experience and be intentional about preventing further harm when people with lived experience are contributing to the work. LETA’s inclusion of trauma-informed care as part of the curriculum helps to prevent re-traumatization of people with lived experience entering advocacy work. Learn more about racial equity here.

Stephanie suggested that tokenism can be avoided when practitioners, stakeholders, researchers and advocates work alongside people with lived experience — ensuring that they have roles at all levels of the work to prevent and end homelessness, and other intersecting issues. Learn more about rights-based participation here and about equity-based decision-making here. In closing, she left everyone with this question for reflection:

 “If you do not have lived experience and have occupied or currently occupy a position of leadership and/or decision-making, what kinds of learning or training opportunities can you use to become more equipped to relinquish power so that people with lived experience can occupy space and be a part of decision-making.” (paraphr.)

We recognize that learning how to carry out the work to prevent and end homelessness equitably is never done. We are committed to continuous knowledge exchange with our global community about the intersection between homelessness and diversity, equity, and inclusion and transparency about our progress and implementation.

Links to Resources

Partnering with People of Lived Experience: What We’ve Learned

IGH Community of Impact

Reese Hagy and Julia Wagner

10 March 2022

Centering the Voices of Experts by Experience

Our most recent event for the IGH Community of Impact Webinar Series highlighted the importance of partnering with people of lived experience. We were honored to have such impactful and powerful speakers and moderators for the webinar.

Moderator: Rob Robinson, Partners in Dignity and Rights


Alicia Vázquez Silvera, Colectivo Ni Todo Esta Perdido

Big Al Connolly, Kommuniti

James Koshiba, Hui Aloha

Lindsay Pacheco, Ka Po`e O Kaka`ako

We recommend you watch the Youtube or listen to the audio recording. You can access additional resources and information about this webinar series on IGH’s Community of Impact website. Below are highlights from the discussion and a short resource guide on partnering with people of lived experience.

“The time is now to hit the reset button; we do it by having these international conversations. Housing should be the right of all global citizens.”

— Rob Robinson, Partners in Dignity and Rights

Rob Robinson of Partners in Dignity and Rights in New York City, served as the moderator for the Partnering with People with Lived Experience Webinar. Rob started the event by describing his time being homeless, and how it changed the way he looks at the world, and made him rethink what he was taught. Rob stressed the destructive pipeline he has witnessed, “Gentrification leads to displacement which leads to homelessness which leads to criminalization. There is a predetermined path for some people, which included black, brown, and poor people in United States…one of the ways to change things is by changing narratives, and to stop blaming the individual.” Homelessness is a societal issue, a result of poverty and a failure of public systems. Rob also stressed the importance of housing as a human right, and the need to house people first and then bringing in the supportive services.

Big Al Connolly of Kommuniti in Perth, Australia discussed the importance of national and local governments acting on the issue of homelessness and the need for housing. In Western Australia, there is a budget surplus, but there are also many people living in poverty and on the streets. Homelessness is a breakdown of democracy and community values. Housing also needs to be wrapped around with the support services and job creation opportunities. It is very hard to get a job without housing, so housing has to come first.

“It should be an inherent right to have a roof over your head. We have to make sure we’re not just writing prescriptions for the symptoms and look at the drivers of homelessness.”

— Big Al Connolly, Kommuniti

Lindsay Pacheco of Ka Po`e O Kaka`ako in Honolulu, USA talked about her experience in Hawaii, where she lived in an encampment for eight years, and now is a recipient of Housing First placement along with being enrolled at the University of Hawaii for her social work degree. Lindsay dedicates her time to advocate for the rights of people living on the street, support the community, and work to get people the services they need.  Lindsay described how in Hawaii, anywhere on the island they call the land, Āina, home. So people are houseless, not homeless. Many native, Hawaiian people are outpriced from living in their home, so many people have to leave the island. Native people should never be pushed out by government policies, and because they are outpriced. Native people have a right to their home, their land, and their community.

“Trust, consistency, and honesty are most important to people with lived/living experience”

— Lindsay Pacheco of Ka Po`e O Kaka`ako

James Koshiba of Hui Aloha in Honolulu, USA talked about the importance of tapping into the leadership within homeless encampments, and connecting to the people who are connected to local resources within that community. When leaders who are houseless come to public forums, their voice disrupts stereotypes and shift priorities for the better, making new solutions possible. Policies and strategies need to be directly informed and led by people of lived experience. Criminalizing homeless negatively affects progress and people who have been criminalized for being homeless have difficult accessing housing and services. The punitive criminalization of homelessness does a lot to disrupt people and set them back.

“The only way to really learn about the issue homelessness is to build relationships with people living on the streets.”

— James Koshiba, Hui Aloha

Alicia Vázquez Silvera of Colectivo Ni Todo Esta Perdido (NITEP) talked about the breakdown of her home after both her parents passed away suddenly. After, she helped people, without having her help returned, and she ended up on the streets. She would wait hours for services, and she was required to go psychiatrist to gain entry to a shelter, even though she felt mentally well. She made money by being a car guard and begging for money and food. She was introduced to NITEP, a collective to help people who are homeless, run by people of lived experience, students, and university members. Through NITEP and IGH, Alicia was voted to go to the United Nations Commission on Social Development to talk about the importance of affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness. Alicia, now has a job, and is living at a motel, and looking at apartments, and is talking with a psychologist to work through her trauma. She feels like she is rising and doing better, and thanks NITEP for their support and advice. She now feels great that she is able to give back to the NITEP collective.

 “Home is living, happiness, peace of mind, its comfort…it’s everything. Home is everything.”

Alicia Vázquez Silvera of Colectivo Ni Todo Esta Perdido

Partnering with People of Lived Experience Resource Guide

What does it mean to partner with people of lived experience?

Partnering with people with lived experience of homelessness is critical to having a comprehensive homelessness response and leads to more inclusive programs and better outcomes for all clients. Therefore, centering the voices of experts by experience is important at every level of homeless programs: in leadership roles, hiring, advisory, and research.  People with lived experience are uniquely positioned to provide important insights on homelessness interventions including identifying shortcomings in programs, improving homelessness systems, and developing more equitable and effective programs. Additionally, these individuals can provide invaluable assistance in peer support roles and help similarly situated individuals overcome homelessness in various ways.

Partnering with people of lived experience goes beyond merely paternalistic or tokenistic measures that only superficially take them into account. Rather, this approach requires substantive involvement and providing individuals with lived experience with opportunities for participation as equals in the process of solving the problems that affect them. 

“Changing narratives and creating solutions to homelessness requires people with lived experience to be at the CENTER of the conversation, leading — not just at the table.”

— James Koshiba, Hui Aloha

Why is ‘lived experience’ important?

Research suggests that there are many benefits associated with partnering with people with lived experience of homelessness. Various studies have investigated the impact of inclusion of people with lived experience of homelessness from different angles. In short, these studies have found:

  • Participatory interventions – such as making decisions related to day-to-day shelter operations or having a say in shelter programming – can have positive outcomes related to physical and mental health; strengthening social bonds; and improved sense of empowerment and hope. 
  • The unique situational knowledge that people with lived experience of homelessness possess can make them exceptionally effective at identifying deficiencies in methods of homelessness service provision. 
  • People with current or previous lived experience of homelessness are well-positioned to connect with similarly-situated individuals, thereby making them particularly effective as role models, mentors, and intermediaries.

How to incorporate people with lived experience

“Solutions to end homelessness should be shaped and led by communities.”

— Rob Robinson, Partners in Dignity and Rights

Partnering with people of lived experience can be approached in a variety of ways, including:

  • Staff and peer support roles: individuals with lived experience can play a critical role in helping program participants adjust to programs, navigate their recovery, and integrate into the community. Peer specialists can also act as intermediaries between program participants and other team members.
  • Leadership roles: people with lived experience can serve in executive roles such as on boards of directors or governing committees.
  • Co-production: this occurs when people with lived experience of homelessness work to design the programs and services they use through collaborative, power-sharing relationships with those who administer the programs. 
  • Advisory roles: individuals with lived experience of a certain situation (e.g., homelessness) can be convened to give input on how to address issues relevant to that situation. This can occur through semi-permanent mechanisms such as lived experience advisory boards or more temporary mechanisms such as focus groups. 
  • Community-based participatory research: this is an approach to research where the community being studied collaborates closely with researchers as co-investigators to establish goals, shape the design of the research, and assist with implementation. 

It is important to be part of a network of people with lived experience and being given the platform to share expertise, through partnership.

— Alicia Vázquez Silvera of Colectivo Ni Todo Esta Perdido

Removing barriers to partnering with people of lived experience

“If service providers really want to help people, be consistent, and stay consistent.”

— Lindsay Pacheco of Ka Po`e O Kaka`ako

With all these approaches, it is important for organizations to reduce barriers and obstacles that may be associated with partnering with people of lived experience. Barriers to successfully partnering with people of lived experience identified by research include negative attitudes of service providers and staff; stigma, discrimination, and disrespect; and feelings of apathy or that participation is futile due to previous negative experiences. Power imbalances may also play a role, as people who depend on homelessness services for survival may be reluctant to speak up about a problem out of concern that they may lose access to resources. Finally, time and resource constraints may also be an obstacle, especially for people who are currently experiencing homelessness.

Given these challenges, programs and services that partner with people of lived experience should prioritize the following: 

  • Ensuring that people with lived experience are incorporated as equals and that partnerships are structured in such a way that power is shared.
  • Equitable compensation for the time people of lived experience contribute.
  • Allocating adequate resources for training and capacity/skill-building that allows individuals to serve in their roles effectively.
  • Flexibility and support to ensure that partnerships are feasible (e.g., childcare, transit assistance, meals, etc). 

Additional Resources for partnering with people of lived experience

Built for Zero Canada. (2022). Peers and Lived Experience. 

USICH & HUD. (2021). HUD Guidance: Engaging Individuals with Lived Experience. 

Lived Experience Advisory Council. (2016). Nothing about us without us: Seven principles for leadership & inclusion of people with lived experience of homelessness. (2016). The Homeless Hub Press. 

Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. (2017). Engagement Toolkit. 

Homeless Link. (n.d.). Co-Production Toolkit. 

Schoenfeld, E. A., Bennet, K., Manganella, K., & Kemp Gage. (2019). More than just a seat at the table: the power of youth voice ending youth homelessness in the United States. Child Care in Practice 25 (1), 112-125. https://doi.org/10.1080/13575279.2018.1521376. 



Launch of the International Journal on Homelessness: What We’ve Learned

IGH Community of Impact Webinar Series

Reese Hagy

23 November 2021

Introducing the International Journal on Homelessness

The most recent installment of the IGH Community of Impact Webinar Series celebrated the launch of the International Journal of Homelessness (IJOH), the first issue of which was published earlier this month. The IJOH is supported by the Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness and Western University in London, Ontario. The IJOH aims to facilitate academic discourse on the phenomenon of global homelessness from a variety of international perspectives. The webinar featured presentations by several contributors to the first issue of the IJOH who discussed their research and participated in a Q&A session. The webinar presentations featured a variety of content, addressing topics such as prevention, lived experience, housing issues, and more. 

IJOH Managing Editor and Western University Associate Professor Abe Oudshoorn delivered the opening remarks for the webinar. Oudshoorn recounted his experience working with people experiencing homelessness while working as a nurse and explained how this led him to understand the importance of systems change in addressing the issue of homelessness. He noted that while homelessness is a complex problem, in that it is influenced by several factors including social and economic conditions and the personal complexity of individuals, the solutions to it are rather straightforward: housing, and where applicable, supports and services that help people maintain housing. Oudshoorn explained that the purpose of the IJOH is to help make these solutions a reality and to hasten this process by providing a space for knowledge and research sharing from different parts of the world, with an intentional focus on countries that tend to be overlooked in this area. 

Research in the First Issue of the IJOH

Examining the needs of persons experiencing homelessness: Bringing the voice of lived experience to policy priorities

Sarah Canham from the University of Utah discussed her research on the needs of homeless people and how they are being addressed through public policy as understood through the perspective of people with lived experience of homelessness. Through interviews with 15 people with lived experience of homelessness, Canham and her co-authors identified several challenges related to housing and shelter policies that could be addressed through public policy and concluded that policymakers should take steps to better align policy responses with the needs and concerns of those who are impacted by homelessness. 

Exploring the use of Hotels as Alternative Housing by Domestic Violence Shelters During COVID-19

Jill Veenendaal discussed research on the use of hotels to house women experiencing domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada. Veenendall and two other researchers interviewed women who had stayed in the shelter hotels, shelter workers, and shelter directors to better understand the challenges and benefits associated with this intervention. The researchers found the use of hotels tended to meet the basic shelter needs of many of those who stayed in them and also generally provided them more autonomy than traditional shelter settings. Drawbacks associated with the implementation of the program studied included increased difficulty accessing basic necessities (e.g., food, diapers) compared to shelter settings and a lack of sufficient space over the long-term (e.g.,  if the women were accompanied by children). 

Exit Pathways from Shelters for Homeless People in Montevideo

Thomas Evans from the Ministerio de Desarrollo Social (MIDES) and Universidad de la República in Uruguay presented the findings from a study analyzing the process of shelter users exiting street homelessness. Interviews were conducted with 30 men who had previous contact with the MIDES Street Program (“Programma Calle”) shelter system to better understand the factors that contributed to the ending of their homelessness. Three core types of exit were identified through the study: 1) exit supported by primary networks (e.g., family, friends, acquaintances); 2) independent exit (generally aided by improved income and job opportunities), and 3) institutional support (through more public policy-related means, such as income supports, supportive housing, etc.). 

Advancing a Five-Level Typology of Homelessness Prevention

IJOH Europe Editor-in-Chief Peter Mackie from Cardiff University detailed the characteristics of a five-stage typology of homelesssness prevention developed in collaboration with IJOH Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Fitzpatrick and Jenny Wood from Heriot-Watt University. Their five-stage typology of homelessness prevention underscores the following types of prevention: 1) universal prevention, 2) upstream prevention, 3) crisis prevention, 4) emergency prevention, and 5) repeat prevention. Mackie and his colleagues used the typology to evaluate the efficacy of current homeless prevention policies in the UK and identify areas for change.

The Role of Universal Basic Income in Preventing and Ending Homelessness

The concluding presentation was given by Nick Kerman, PhD from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Ontario. Kerman discussed the role of universal basic income (UBI) in preventing and ending homelessness and highlighted the potential risks and benefits associated with implementing a UBI. While Kerman acknowledged that UBI would not eradicate homelessness on its own, he argued that there is reason to believe that it could act as a complement to current programs and income supports targeting homelessness and called for more research to be done on this topic.

You can access resources and additional information about this webinar series on IGH’s Community of Impact website. To learn more about the International Journal on Homelessness, visit their website. You can watch the full webinar video on Youtube.

Housing First in International Contexts: What We’ve Learned

IGH Community of Impact Webinar Series

Reese Hagy

29 July 2021

Housing First is a model of homelessness intervention that is targeted towards people experiencing chronic homelessness. As opposed to ‘staircase’ models that generally require program participants to meet certain requirements before attaining standard housing, the Housing First model is a housing-led intervention that addresses homelessness by first providing secure accommodations to program participants and then working to address their needs through providing case management and access to services and support as needed.

As the evidence base for Housing First’s effectiveness has grown, the model has proliferated throughout the world. As it has been implemented in new and diverse socioeconomic and cultural contexts, Housing First has been adapted to suit new environments. This IGH Community of Impact webinar brought together Housing First experts to discuss the successes, prospects, and challenges related to Housing First’s development in an international context. Webinar speakers included:

  • Sam Tsemberis – Founder of Pathways Housing First
  • Karinna Soto – Jefa Oficina Nacional de Calle, Ministerio de Desarrollo Social y Familia, Gobierno de Chile
  • Susan McGee – CEO of Homeward Trust Edmonton (Canada)
  • Margaret Ann Brünjes – Chief Executive of Homelessness Network Scotland

Housing First v. Other Approaches

Sam Tsemberis, who developed the Housing First model in New York City in the 1990s, spoke first, contrasting the Housing First model with other models of homelessness responses. Tsemberis suggested conceptualizing homelessness programs as belonging to two broad categories: those that keep people homeless and those that end or prevent homelessness directly. Programs that focus on only temporarily sheltering people or providing treatment services often fail to adequately address the problem of homelessness. Conversely, programs that keep people housed, prevent them from becoming homeless, or provide housing without preconditions can be seen as a solution to the problem of homelessness directly by ensuring that people have access to housing.

Housing First falls into this latter category of housing programs, providing housing without other preconditions and emphasizing principles related to consumer choice; separation of housing and services; needs-based services; recovery-focused practice; and community integration and social inclusion. Tsemberis noted that this principled approach to addressing homelessness has now been tested through several random control trials and found to have double the success rate of the traditional ‘staircase’ model (~80% vs. ~40%). Tsemberis also cautioned that as Housing First is adapted to new contexts, it is essential that those implementing the model stay true to the core principles since fidelity to these principles is critical to the success of any Housing First program.

Adaptation & Success in Chile, Edmonton, and Scotland

Each of the speakers discussed the successes achieved through their Housing First programs. Karinna Sota reported that Chile’s program, which focuses primarily on homeless people 50 years and older who have been living on the street for over five years, has a housing success rate of 90%. Susan McGee, whose organization Homeward Trust Edmonton focuses heavily on indigenous homelessness, reported that their Housing First program had housed nearly 13,000 people since 2009, with 85% of people remaining housed after one year in the program. Margaret Ann Brünjes reported similarly high rates of housing success in Scotland, with the country as a whole having an average of 85%.

The rates of housing stability reported by the speakers are largely in line with those recounted by Tsemberis in regards to Housing First programs that have been effectively implemented. These outcomes suggest that the model can achieve similar levels of success in housing stability for the chronically homeless in varied contexts.

For Chile, Soto shared that the program has focused on community integration with Housing First being one of the programs in their Barrios Calle Cero program, an intersectoral strategy with the goal to reduce rough sleeping and advance in the goal committed as part of IGH’s Vanguard City program. The strategy is led by the Ministry of Social Development and Family, in alliance with different organizations public and private providing an installation of a network of integrated services.

McGee shared how Edmonton’s Housing First program is part of a robust system of housing with a coordinated access program to road map matching people to the right housing solution. Edmonton has also focused on providing indigenous-led housing first programs. With 60 percent of people experiencing homelessness identifying as indigenous, providing training to staff and programs with cultural supports has been critically important.

In Scotland, Homeless Network Scotland along with their partners developed Branching Out- A National Framework to start-up and scale-up Housing First. Brünjes spoke about the document which is both a route map and reference material for Scottish communities to scale up Housing First.

Housing First & COVID-19

The speakers also spoke of the challenges and opportunities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite launching their Housing First program during the pandemic, Soto mentioned that the program had been implemented successfully in Chile and likely resulted in cost savings overall. McGee noted that the pandemic has unfortunately had led to an increase of the inflow into homelessness in Edmonton and further argued that the sense of urgency created by the pandemic has served to refocus their efforts to address homelessness as the crisis that it is. Brünjes reported that homelessness was at record lows due to the pandemic, with fewer than ten people currently experiencing street homelessness in Glasgow. The pandemic also coincided with a shift in Scotland’s national framework for addressing homelessness.

Tsemberis pointed out that the pandemic had led to an unprecedented response to homelessness in many cities, such as in Los Angeles where people experiencing homeless were moved into hotels without having to meet restrictive requirements. The success and progress made by the three Housing First programs represented on the webinar, even in times of adversity, demonstrates that with adequate resources, commitment, and political will, Housing First can be an effective intervention for addressing chronic homelessness in various international contexts.

You can access resources and additional information from the webinar on IGH’s Community of Impact website. To learn more about international Housing First strategies, visit IGH’s Hub. You can watch the full webinar video on Youtube.

Homeless Prevention Strategies: What We’ve Learned

IGH Community of Impact Webinar Series

Reese Hagy

25 March 2021

How do communities work upstream to prevent homelessness? How does data and evidence inform targeted prevention strategies?

In our recent Community of Impact Webinar, we investigated these questions by featuring homeless prevention experts and strategies from around the globe. Homelessness prevention works to address the causes of homelessness before it occurs. Traditionally, homeless services and systems focus on serving people after they become homeless. Growing evidence indicates that prevention strategies help communities reduce the number of people entering the homeless system. People who experience homelessness are not homeless due to some innate characteristic that they possess; homelessness results after a failure of multiple systems. It is important to understand the gaps that exist in systems in order to disrupt the inflow of people becoming homeless and drive change. 

A comprehensive approach to homelessness prevention operates at different levels, addressing both direct causes of homelessness and working further ‘upstream’ to address issues contributing to the loss of housing. Certain prevention strategies involve targeting resources toward those who are at imminent risk of homelessness by providing services such as rental assistance or landlord-tenant mediation to those at risk of eviction. Other preventative approaches seek to identify risk factors – such as school absenteeism or contact with social services – well in advance and intervene prior to a point of crisis. Communities may also seek to address underlying structural issues such as housing stability, for example, by prioritizing affordable housing development or access to housing subsidies to combat homelessness. 

This IGH Community of Impact Webinar featured four experts on homelessness prevention, each bringing their own unique perspectives to the topic. 

  • Abe Oudshoorn, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Western University in London, Ontario and the Managing Editor of the International Journal on Homelessness. 
  • Lynette Barnes, Manager of All Chicago’s Emergency Financial Assistance Program
  • Katie Shomacker and Melissa Matthews, Team Leaders for the Geelong Project

Below are key highlights from the webinar from each of our speakers:

Abe Oudshoorn, Ph.D: Prevention & Empowerment – A Review of International Prevention Strategies

Oudshoorn spoke on the importance of identifying the opportunities that exist for intervention and preventing an episode of homelessness. He discussed shelter intake practices in Canada that are targeted towards helping at-risk families access resources to stay in their current housing or move to accommodations other than a shelter. He also highlighted the importance of effective discharge planning and the need to ensure that people leaving institutions such healthcare facilities are not discharged into homelessness. These prevention tactics underscore the importance of thinking about how to address inflow into the homelessness system by identifying how people are entering into homelessness and addressing these gaps. 

Oudshoorn also discussed the concept of empowerment as it relates to helping people faced with homelessness have agency in their own lives, arguing that empowerment must be central to addressing homelessness, since the struggle against homelessness is intimately related to the larger struggle for human rights. Homelessness manifests differently depending on the social and cultural context. In one country homelessness may have a dimension related to security for housing for migrant workers, while in another it may have dimensions related to a patriarchal property rights regime. It is therefore essential to ensure that addressing homelessness entails also addressing underlying power imbalances that contribute to homelessness and housing insecurity in the first place. 

Lynette Barnes on All Chicago’s Emergency Financial Assistance

Barnes spoke about the work done through the All Chicago Emergency Financial Assistance Fund, which allocates financial assistance to people who are at risk of homelessness. The Fund traces its roots back to 1973 when it was established as a general emergency fund for those who could not obtain support through other social service agencies in Chicago. The fund evolved over the years into its current form, which Barnes explained as being geared toward providing “small amounts of assistance to prevent larger crises from happening.” By providing short-term financial support for rent, transportation, utilities, and other basic needs, the fund helps keep people housed and addresses some of the gaps in social services. 

Due to the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund recently partnered with the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing in order to prevent evictions. This was necessary, Barnes pointed out, since an eviction filing against a tenant can cause future complications for securing housing. Additionally, the fund has started engaging with landlords to secure units for their rapid rehousing activities, which helps to accommodate people living in encampments. Barnes closed by noting that the fund has distributed nearly eight million dollars to over 3,000 households throughout the course of 2020. 

The Geelong Project’s Youth Homelessness Prevention

Schomacker and Matthews shared a video about the work being done by the Geelong Project to prevent youth homelessness in Geelong, Australia. Youth homelessness in some contexts is less visible than other forms of homelessness, often manifesting as couch surfing or living in a series of impermanent arrangements. The Geelong Project works within the school system, using a comprehensive survey to identify students who may be at risk. Then, the project provides case work and support services to students and families to help with the issues they are facing. An early evaluation of the Geelong Project’s work found that it had achieved a 40 percent reduction in students presenting at youth homeless entry points and a 20 percent reduction in students dropping out of school. 

Data & Prevention

Each of the webinar panelists stressed the importance of a nuanced, community-centered, and data-driven approach to homelessness prevention. Oudshoorn mentioned the importance of using what data is available in a community to understand the groups who are in need. The Geelong Project ‘s school surveys collect  information on risk factors among students, allowing them to target their prevention efforts towards at-risk students. Barnes discussed the importance of having data on the people who are contacting the All Chicago emergency assistance fund for help, noting that the main driver of fund applications over the past year has been job loss related to the pandemic. Having quality data allows for a better understanding of the population that needs services and a more efficient allocation of scarce resources to prevent homelessness. 

You can access resources and additional information from the webinar on IGH’s Community of Impact website. To learn more about international prevention strategies, visit IGH’s Hub. You can watch the full webinar video on Youtube.

Data and Collective Impact During COVID-19: What We’ve Learned

IGH launched our Community of Impact (CoI) to connect leaders and practitioners to a collaborative and dynamic global network of knowledge of what works in ending homelessness. COVID-19 has represented an enormous challenge as the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations especially people experiencing homelessness. In our first Community of Impact Webinar, we were honored to have three speakers who discussed how data and coordinated responses allowed their communities to adopt quickly and effectively to COVID-19 in order to protect and house people experiencing homelessness. The three speakers were:

  • Jeremy Swain, UK Advisor for the United Kingdom Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • Dr. Surashree Shome, Senior Manager at Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives
  • Molly Seeley, Special Projects Manager for the Institute of Global Homelessness

The video of the webinar can be found here. From Great Britain to Bengaluru, India, the speakers’ presentations had common themes in their presentations:

  • Strong leadership with multi-sector coordination including the formation of taskforces resulted in improved communication, collaborative action, and led to better outcomes, and 
  • disaggregated data allowed leaders to better understand the scope of the impact and design new initiatives that are more inclusive and better targeted to specific populations.

Below are key takeaways from each of the speakers.

Building a multi-sector COVID-19 response to achieve better outcomes

With sheltering at home being the first line of defense during COVID-19, robust strategies were needed to protect and house rough sleepers. Our first speaker, Jeremy Swain, discussed Great Britain’s  ‘Everybody In’ initiative, where they temporarily housed 15,000 people, 95 percent of the homelessness population, in self-contained accommodation including hotels. This initiative was accomplished through leveraging extensive existing data on street homelessness and a coordinated, multi-sector approach. Joint efforts between the homelessness and healthcare sector were key to providing support services. The healthcare sector was very engaged in collecting detailed health data to improve current and post-pandemic support, which was crucial when people left temporary accommodation they had a specific health outcome and package of support, which would not have happened before COVID-19.

“We can bring together different systems to get outcomes around health that we didn’t manage to achieve before.”

Data was also important to understand the movement and migration of people with no recourse to public funds as more than one-third of people experiencing homelessness in London are Central and Eastern European immigrants. Looking ahead, with inclusive data and housing-led strategies, the UK government is working to secure funding and space for post-pandemic accommodation to ensure that nobody returns to the streets.

Using data to design more impactful programs in Bengaluru, India

Dr. Surashree Shome discussed Bengaluru’s COVID-19 response as the pandemic had a large impact on homeless and migrant populations across India with over 27,000 temporary shelters opened.. In Bengaluru, at first the city’s 9 permanent shelters were utilized and then an additional one hundred temporary shelters were opened across the city to meet the increased demand. Dr. Shome and her colleagues at APPI launched a study from ten shelters — five permanent and five temporary, to better understand the demographics of the people utilizing the shelters. The objectives of the study were to help develop a more effective strategy to deliver support and to advance policy advocacy for addressing homelessness.

“Understanding the profile will help us design programs and also advocate policies for them because these are the people that are accessing shelters.”

Collecting disaggregated data by age and sex showed the need for additional shelters for women and the elderly. The study found that only 7 percent of the shelter residents were women, with many women afraid to enter shelters due to security concerns. With 82 percent of the residents above the age of 60 years old, the study showed the need for geriatric care services and exclusive spaces within shelters to protect the most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. The data also revealed the large impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant and shelter populations, about 80 percent of the shelter residents were working before the pandemic and 58 percent of the residents said they are unable to buy masks and sanitizer. Shelter residents also had difficulty accessing government benefits during the pandemic with only 62 percent having the required aadhar government ID-card. APPI and partners are using the study data from the government to create recommendations on more targeted and impactful programs.

Surveying cities to better understand COVID-19 responses

In surveying 22 cities on their homelessness sector interventions to COVID-19, Molly Seeley found that there was a wide spectrum of system responses.  Some cities reduced programs while restricting access and increasing criminalization, other cities added sanitation and protective protocols to normal services, and there were also cities that completely transitioned their systems to move the majority of rough sleepers into self-contained accommodation. For these housing-led responses, clear leadership was a common thread with many cities creating task forces between government, health, and homeless organizations. 

 “One of the really key pieces is that for systems who shifted to looking at root cause rather than mitigation, there was very clear leadership that was coordinated between city officials and homelessness experts.” 

Seeley’s research also showed that lack of resources prevented some cities from meaningful adaptations, but larger investments do not necessarily steer cities toward overhauling their system responses to homelessness.  Seeley’s research found that previous attitudes around homelessness shaped COVID-19 responses more than the availability of new resources/amount of funding. In cities that adopted COVID-19 housing-led responses, this had already been part of the city’s homeless response, or was being discussed prior to COVID-19.