How many of us set alarms in the morning to avoid being late for school or work?
Get flu shots to avoid getting sick during the winter?
Or use seatbelts to avoid – knock on wood – getting hurt in a car accident?
Maybe we do some of these things because the law tells us to, but the common element in each of these scenarios is the word prevention.
Prevention is not a new concept. We use it in so many aspects of our everyday lives but don’t necessarily think of it as prevention.
Well, what exactly is prevention?
Prevention is stopping something before it happens; it is about being proactive rather than reactive.
Let’s consider an example: if a street intersection consistently has traffic accidents, a reactive solution might be to build a nearby hospital to quickly respond to these accidents. On the other hand, a preventative and proactive solution might be to add traffic lights to stop, or realistically to reduce, the number of car accidents. The problem with the reactive solution is that we’re waiting until people are hurt before we step in.
What about homelessness prevention?
When it comes to homelessness in Canada, a reactive solution would be to build homeless shelters that offer individuals a place to shower and sleep. Alternatively, a preventative and proactive solution to homelessness might be to improve landlord-tenant legislation to better protect tenants from being evicted (which may then cause them to be homeless).
While having a place to shower and sleep is important, the problem with only building homeless shelters is that we’re waiting until an individual becomes homeless before we help them. This emergency response to homelessness, unfortunately, is very common across Canada.
What are the benefits? Why focusing on prevention?
Homelessness prevention is the humane thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do. Evidence shows that it is costlier to use shelters to manage homelessness than it is to prevent it in the first place.
Gaetz finds that individuals who are homeless typically have higher levels of healthcare usage. It consequently incurs higher healthcare costs. Within the criminal justice system, approximately $350,000 can be saved each time an individual is prevented from being homeless.
Despite its cost-effectiveness, prevention initiatives have yet to be widely implemented throughout North America.
At Raising the Roof, we are proud to be one of the first national leaders in homelessness prevention with several initiatives focusing on prevention. The Upstream Project, for example, is a school-based initiative that works ‘upstream’ to prevent youth homelessness as well as to promote student wellbeing and increase school engagement. For more details on any of our initiatives, feel free to contact Elisa Traficante at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Additional reading about homelessness prevention
If you’re interested in better understanding homelessness prevention, check out “A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention” by Stephen Gaetz and Erin Dej. This paper outlines the different categories of homelessness prevention, as well as the typology of prevention.