Homelessness, Housing First And Living In A State Of Lack

a cozy cabin in a ray of sunlight under storm clouds
This scene was created by affordablehousingaction.org and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The article linked to this post is about what it’s like to experience homeless in two cities in Ontario. It’s also about what people experience when they leave homelessness behind and move into housing. As the authors report, it is about living in a state of lack.

The empirical studies of Housing First1 demonstrate that it is effective in helping people to move to housing and to maintain a tenancy. On other post-occupancy scores, the results are more mixed.

The mixed results are about changes to alcohol and drug consumption, finding employment and feeling part of a community. The mixed results are observed more often in programs that follow the model of Housing First as developed in the United States2.

The research in this article used a participatory research process to get a better understanding of the mixed results reported in the empirical studies. The study team included people with experience of homelessness. They interviewed people who were homeless and people with experience of homelessness who had moved to housing. Some of the study participants prepared photo essays to further illustrate their experiences.

The study speaks volumes about gaps in the systems and structures that are supposed to support people who are homeless, as well as people who leave the street and move to housing.

One participant who had moved to housing describes trying to get into a harm reduction program:

‘I met these guys at the meetings and they told me about [name of treatment centre] and I called every day for six weeks, five times a day. They eventually called me back and said: “I’m going to get you in sooner because I’m sick of hearing your voicemails”. It took six or seven weeks to get in.’

The report’s authors sum up the responses from the survey participants this way:

‘Participants in this study emphasized how they lived constantly without their needs met during and following homelessness [emphasis added], and that this placed them in ongoing precarity that perpetuated  homelessness and placed their health at risk.

‘Placing persons who are living with complex health histories in a state of ongoing need and denying them the right to safe and adequate housing is a serious disability rights violation and represents both the systematic exclusion of persons with disabilities from the right to well-being, and a failure of society to meet the needs of all citizens, regardless of the social locations they may occupy.’

The findings of this study should be a call to action for service providers, researchers, advocates and legislators, especially in Ontario. The research model will also be of interest to researchers in other jurisdictions.

You can read more in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being: “I Can’t Remember the Last Time I Was Comfortable About Being Home”: Lived Experience Perspectives on Thriving Following Homelessness


  1. For more about Housing First, as practised in the United States, try: What Is Housing First? Why Is It So Popular?
  2. Try: Housing First – What Is It And How Does It Help To End Homelessness?, which compares Housing First programs that follow the U.S model with Housing First as it has evolved in Finland.