Transitional Housing for Supportive Housing and Emergency Shelter Providers

Written by Anna Froehlich

September 14, 2020

CMHC’s Expert Community on Housing (ECOH) is a recent initiative of the National Housing Strategy created to bring together an online community of housing experts sharing knowledge and expertise to contribute to the development of housing solutions. There are regular webinars and forums hosted on Microsoft Teams, and ongoing discussion groups on a variety of housing topics primarily related to National Housing Strategy’s priority areas and groups.

More information on the ECOH can be found on the CMHC website at this link.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a Webinar hosted by the ECOH titled “Transforming Emergency Shelter Spaces to Permanent Supportive Housing – New Opportunities During COVID-19​.  The webinar was hosted by Dr. Abe Oudshoorn, assistant professor at the Faculty of Nursing of the University of Western Ontario, who presented his research on a pilot project at the London Ontario Salvation Army Centre for Hope. The research project was conducted by a team including Dr. Carrie Marshall, Dr. Deanna Befus, & Colleen Parsons, also from Western University.

In 2004 the Centre for Hope created 66 private transitional rooms in addition to the emergency shelter and support programs offered. These rooms provide privacy and security, while allowing residents to maintain continued access to community and support. In 2019 they opened additional private rooms in a dedicated recovery wing. The rooms are pay-to-stay and are only available to former residents of the emergency shelter.

The private rooms are a response to a lack of other options for permanent affordable housing with supports in the community. The research considered whether this kind of transitional housing within an emergency shelter system is desirable, and what impact it has for residents, and looked at best practices that could be replicable for other groups.

The research was conducted mainly through primary interviews with residents. The research team, who had longstanding toes in the community, asked residences about their experiences, and quantified the impact of living in the private rooms on people’s mental health and addictions recovery, and overall stability and satisfaction.

Excerpts from these interviews were compiled into this Youtube video, with the permission of participants, and their first hand accounts provide compelling evidence:

From these interviews, the positive impact on people’s lives is evident. The quantitative outcomes measured by the research also support this, and led to three overarching conclusions:

  • Creating housing opportunities in existing shelter spaces is a promising practice.
  • Substance use and recovery focused housing is filling a significant gap.
  • This should be scaled up both in terms of addiction focused housing and in terms of supporting other particular populations in preventing and ending homelessness.

Finding appropriate housing for individuals moving on from emergency shelter programs and other short term housing programs is a challenge given the long wait lists for subsidized housing. The pay-to-stay model has its challenges, and may not be accessible to everyone, however, offering a transitional step of private housing and greater independence, while maintaining ties to a familiar community and access to support services, has been cited by many different groups as something that is missing and sorely needed.

I see a great deal of relevance for organizations beyond only emergency shelters. A number organisations Cahdco has worked with, that are not traditional landlords, have expressed interest in adding transitional housing to the programs and services they offer. This has been identified as a critical gap by groups running programs for mental health, addictions, services for criminalised populations, women’s shelters, and even healthcare settings.

To support other organizations, the Dr. Oudshoorn and his research team published a guide to support organizations wishing to offer private rooms within their existing spaces. The guide is available online, and offers practical recommendations and resources for groups considering this model:

The resource guide covers:

  • Private Room Design guidelines
  • Staffing Roles
  • Intake Process
  • Eligibility Requirements
  • Program Rules
  • Policies & Practices

It also includes a number of resources including an Occupancy Agreement form, Resident’s Rights Form, Program Rules, and other templates that can be used and adapted by organizations considering a similar model.

Anna Froehlich

Project Manager

September 14, 2020