Recently, Raising the Roof released a national report on family homelessness titled Putting an End to Child & Family Homelessness in Canada. In mobilizing the report’s findings and recommendations, we also want to bring attention to some fantastic programs that are successfully supporting vulnerable families. Here’s one great example of a community addressing the issue of family homelessness.

The power of problem solving; pilot diverts 64% of families from emergency shelters.

An innovative pilot that helped 524 families avoid or reduce the trauma and stress of homelessness will become a permanent approach to ending family homelessness in Waterloo Region. The key to its success? Offering families the right amount of support at the right time through a coordinated approach.

This is just one step the Region and the community is taking to end family homelessness in the region, a priority included in the All Roads Lead to Home: Homelessness to Housing Stability Strategy and an issue that became even more critical following the 2008 recession.

Unprecedented number of families turning to shelters

The years following the 2008 recession left many families in the region either homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Family stays in emergency shelters increased more than two-fold and the time spent in a shelter doubled. The experience of family homelessness has both immediate and long-term negative impacts on children and parents – emotionally, psychologically, socially, and physically.  With unprecedented pressure on shelter programs at unsustainable costs, a better solution was needed – one that keeps families in housing and out of shelter. The Family Shelter Diversion Pilot began in October 2013 as a partnership between the Region of Waterloo (with funding and planning support), Lutherwood Housing Services, and Cambridge Shelter.  The pilot grew to include the YWCA Emergency Shelter in April 2014 and ran to March 2015.

A new approach to resolving the housing crisis

Connecting families with the right help at the right time through one coordinated point of access to the local housing stability system made a big impact: 64 percent of families served through the pilot were able to either stay in their current housing or were supported to find another safe and appropriate option, without having to access a shelter first. Families at risk of Homelessness

Through the pilot, 524 families with 841 children received support. Many didn’t need emergency shelter; they just needed someone to help them problem solve. Some families received money through a flex fund to get through a rough period while others were able to stay with a friend or relative until they could find a more permanent home. Families who had no other place to go stayed in the shelter but came up with a housing plan with next steps to make sure their stay was as short as possible. 

  • 1 percent needed more intensive longer-term support (in addition to the above)
  • Motel overflow costs fell from $121,425 to $4,140
  • Average cost to serve a family fell 68 percent from $6,425 to $2,041

What we learned and next steps

Each family’s situation is unique; there is no “one size fits all” approach to resolving a family’s housing crisis. While some need a relatively small amount of support to avoid a shelter stay, others require more intensive support over a longer period of time. The pilot evolved to accommodate the varying levels of support needed.

From this pilot came a report with 25 recommendations that will be implemented in the context of a full range of support options for families called Families to Homes (F2H), with policy direction guided by partner agencies of the F2H Collaborative. In addition, what was learned through the pilot will be applied to local services for other population groups to further support an end to homelessness in Waterloo Region.

Information provided by: Families to Homes (F2H), a working group of community agencies.