Canadian experiment defies orthodox approach to homelessness

Placing homeless directly into housing has had high success rate, says visiting academic

Dr Tim Aubry of the University of Ottawa will meet housing officials in Dublin City Council.

Dr Tim Aubry of the University of Ottawa will meet housing officials in Dublin City Council.


A radical Canadian experiment to tackle homelessness has resulted in significant savings across hospital, mental health, criminal justice and addiction services budgets. It has also improved the wellbeing of thousands of formerly homeless people.

Details of the programme, At Home/Chez Soi, will be outlined in a talk by one its designers, Dr Tim Aubry of the University of Ottawa, in Dublin this afternoon.

At Home/Chez Soi was piloted in five Canadian cities between 2010 and 2013, and is now being “scaled up” as part of the federal housing and homelessness policy.

The talk is hosted by Focus Ireland, which is involved in a small-scale version of the project. It runs Housing First with the Peter McVerry Trust for chronic rough-sleepers .

The approach places homeless people directly into housing, with a “wraparound” of intensive supports including addiction and mental health services.

“It seemed radical,” said Dr Aubry. “The orthodox thinking has been that people who have been homeless for a prolonged period and who have mental health issues are not ready for housing, that they need to be ‘got ready’ for it by going through various levels of shelters. What we found was that we turn that on its head, that we get the housing in place immediately: they are far better able to engage with supports and they maintain their wellbeing.”

The programme, which ran in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton, had 2,148 participants of varying levels of need. Some 1,158 were put into the “housing first” programme while 990 were treated as usual, as a control group.

They were mainly middle-aged, a third were women and had been homeless for about five years. All had at least one serious mental health issue and most had chronic physical health issues.

“Over 60 per cent of those in the ‘housing first’ group maintained their housing after being housed,” said Dr Aubry who is also meeting housing officials in Dublin City Council.