From left: Jan Richardson, manager, Homelessness Prevention, City of London; Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, assistant scientific director at Lawson, and professor of Nursing at Western University; Gordon Russell, director of shelters at Mission Services of London; and Peter Rozeluk, executive director at Mission Services of London gather to share the results of the Prevention of Homelessness Among Families (PHAF) project
Lawson Health Research Institute, Western University, City of London, and Mission Services of London, Ontario, partnered on the Prevention of Homelessness Among Families (PHAF) project to assess the effectiveness of a shelter diversion pilot-program at Rotholme Women’s and Family Shelter (Mission Services).
The results of the study illustrate that a low percentage of families ended up in shelter when accessing the program, and as many as 90 per cent of the families were known to still be housed 18-months later.
The project was supported by $134,000 in funding delivered through the Government of Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund (LPRF). The grant, funded by the Government of Ontario and administered by its agency, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, is helping groups disproportionately affected by poverty get into housing, develop skills and find employment in London, Ontario.
This project focuses on local community partnerships and includes a third-party evaluation component, which is important because better data will help communities develop better solutions to increasing food security, reducing child poverty and homelessness, and helping people find jobs and earn a stable income.
Rotholme’s shelter diversion program aims to divert family homelessness by working with families to maintain stable housing prior to eviction. Families at risk of homelessness who contact the shelter before leaving their home are immediately connected with a housing crisis worker. Together, parents and the crisis worker explore alternate housing arrangements, services, and supports.
“To keep families in their home we have a ‘whatever it takes approach.’ Once families have left their homes and belongings it is very difficult to escape homelessness,” says Gordon Russell, director of shelters, Mission Services, of London. A variety of tactics are used to divert families from shelter, such as negotiating with landlords to keep the family in their home or move them into an available unit.
To evaluate the success of the program, researchers assessed administrative shelter data, interviewed parents who participated in the program, and conducted focus groups with staff and families who did not access the program.
Researchers interviewed 20 families at four time points, approximately six months apart. Thirteen families were able to complete all four interviews. In total the information of 75 individuals, including 29 parents and 46 dependents, was collected, and included demographics, specific needs, utilization of health services, and quality of life metrics. A majority of the parents interviewed had never experienced homelessness before accessing Mission Services.
“We found that Rotholme’s pilot program was effective for preventing family homelessness,” explains Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, assistant scientific director at Lawson, and professor of Nursing at Western University. “Family homelessness is a serious problem, one that can be prevented with early intervention according to our results.”
Other themes that emerge from the study suggest:
- families at risk of homelessness may have life challenges such as mental health and addiction issues, language issues, or low level education levels;
- families at risk of homelessness may have a lack of understanding the system including shelter rules, social assistance and school supports and their own rights;
- and, families at risk of homelessness may experience difficulty with conflict, both within the family dynamic and in resolving conflicts with landlords.
“When we know the challenges that families face, we are better equipped to meet their needs and continue to help them live in stable housing,” continues Dr. Forchuk. “Understanding issues of service preference and outcomes from the context of the whole family are critical to planning appropriate services.”
This investment by the Government of Ontario is just one way the province is bolstering innovative local programs that support groups disproportionately affected by poverty. Through the Local Poverty Reduction Fund, Ontario is helping to break the cycle of poverty for children and youth, increase employment and income security, and end homelessness in Ontario.