Making the Shift to Homelessness Prevention

We conduct and mobilize research to support governments, communities, and service providers to make the shift from crisis response to prevention.

Preventing homelessness requires a significant conceptual and operational shift.

Homelessness prevention means “policies, practices, and interventions that reduce the likelihood that someone will experience homelessness. It also means providing those who are homeless with the necessary resources and supports to stabilize their housing, enhance integration and social inclusion, and ultimately reduce the risk of a return to homelessness.” Prevention also requires addressing systemic factors, such as racism and colonization, that make some groups more likely than others to experience homelessness.

Preventing homelessness means recognizing that its causes can vary across different groups, with Indigenous Peoples, racialized communities, 2SLGBTQ individuals, women, and youth having distinct experiences of homelessness.

Importantly, Western or colonial definitions of homelessness don’t always fit with the histories and current experiences of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous homelessness prevention must focus on recognizing rights, reconnecting with homelands, fostering community, building links with Elders, and strengthening cultural identity.

Ultimately, effective prevention strategies require stronger engagement with public systems outside the homelessness sector and ongoing investments to create long-lasting solutions. For example, the Family and Natural Supports program emphasizes building partnerships with schools to identify at-risk youth and provide them with supports to allow them to remain housed and enrolled in school.

We’ve laid the groundwork for this shift to be as seamless as possible.

The COH has played a significant role in conceptually defining what homelessness prevention involves in terms of policy and practice. In 2017, we published A New Direction – A Framework for Homelessness Prevention followed by The Roadmap for the Prevention of Youth Homelessness. These reports review the international evidence base on prevention and are designed to provide greater clarity on what constitutes homelessness prevention.

Decolonizing the approach to prevention.

Prevention is not a one-size-fits-all approach and must consider the experiences and histories of Indigenous Peoples. The impacts of historical and ongoing colonization, racism, and discrimination require distinct structural and systemic approaches to preventing Indigenous homelessness. As such, we must take a critical look at mainstream approaches to prevention and broaden them to meet the needs of Indigenous Peoples as determined by them.

We’ve moved the dial on homelessness prevention at home and abroad.

In 2017, in partnership with A Way Home Canada, we launched the Making the Shift: Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab to operate and evaluate a series of demonstration projects on five approaches to homelessness prevention. In 2019, Making the Shift was enhanced through a Networks of Centres of Excellence grant, and today it funds over 40 research projects on the prevention of youth homelessness. This is one of the largest homelessness research initiatives on homelessness prevention ever undertaken.

In 2021, our work with Making the Shift was designated as a Geneva UN Charter Centre of Excellence, known as the Toronto Centre of Excellence on Youth Homelessness Prevention at York University. This designation enhances opportunities for international partnership and collaboration on research, knowledge mobilization, advocacy and training activities focused on the prevention of youth homelessness.

We will continue to expand our focus on the prevention of all forms of homelessness, particularly for Indigenous Peoples, seniors, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Black Canadians, women, and single adults.

Ending homelessness means preventing it before it starts and ensuring that any experiences of homelessness are brief and not repeated. Through our research, program model development, and knowledge mobilization, the COH is contributing to a movement to prevent and end homelessness in Canada.

A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention Cover

Featured Resource

A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention

Preventing homelessness requires a significant conceptual and operational shift in how we respond to this problem. A New Direction laid the groundwork for this shift to be as seamless as possible.