Early intervention strategies to prevent youth homelessness

Early intervention strategies to prevent youth homelessness

15 October 2020
Male and female college students in casual clothing, on way to class, ascending staircase

This article explores how early interventions operate to prevent youth homelessness and outlines the emerging evidence for what works.

This is the first in a series of short articles exploring early intervention strategies in Australia, including examples of how it can be applied in particular areas of policy and practice. This article explores how early interventions can prevent youth homelessness and support young people, and offers examples of early interventions currently being implemented in Australia.

When young people become homeless, it is often because of family conflict, violence or abuse experienced at home.1,2 As such, youth homelessness is not solely a housing issue for services to address but an outcome that could be prevented with early intervention.3 In Australia, youth homelessness continues to increase, with over 43,000 young people on their own accessing homelessness services in 2018/19.4 Current approaches to homelessness in Australia are largely crisis-orientated.5,6

This article outlines how early intervention strategies operate to prevent youth homelessness. It considers the emerging evidence for what works and outlines some policy and practice implications for services to support young people at risk of homelessness.

What are early intervention strategies to prevent youth homelessness?

Early intervention strategies have the potential to reduce the incidence of homelessness and improve other outcomes for young people. They respond early to known risk factors and build on associated protective factors. These interventions are generally directed at:

  1. groups of young people known to be at greater risk of becoming homeless than other young people (e.g. young people leaving out-of-home care)
  2. individual young people identified to be at-risk of homelessness through population screening processes (e.g. risk assessment surveys conducted in schools)
  3. individual young people who have recently become, or are at imminent risk of becoming, homeless.

What does the evidence say?

Available evidence suggests building on associated protective factors can help prevent youth homelessness and its recurrence. This includes:

  • helping young people reconnect with their families7,8
    Available evidence indicates this can help improve relationships with family members, improve housing and material circumstances, and assist to identify mental health issues.9 (See the Reconnect Program10.)
  • helping young people connect to community and education11,12
    Emerging evidence indicates supporting at-risk young people to stay connected to their community and education helps prevent homelessness.13,14
  • providing young people with youth-specific and appropriate housing15,16
    Available evidence suggests providing youth-specific and appropriate housing can help support young people to rapidly exit homelessness and establish stable housing17 and has significant cost offsets.18

Early intervention for youth homelessness can be cost-effective in the long term but only if the intervention strategy or program is effective.19 Overall, emerging evidence suggests early intervention strategies are a promising way to prevent youth homelessness but more research is needed to establish how effective and efficient early intervention can be in practice.20

What are the policy and practice implications?

Applying early intervention strategies across the population would represent a significant shift in how service systems respond to young people at risk of homelessness.21,22 Policy makers and service providers could consider how to integrate early intervention strategies within existing service systems, including mainstream and specialist services.23,24 Two areas of promising practice have been identified from the emerging evidence.

1. Place-based, collective impact approaches

A place-based, collective impact approach to preventing youth homelessness has shown early signs of success in Australia25 and is advocated in Canada.26 This approach coordinates whole communities and support services to respond collectively to the needs of young people by:

  • addressing local needs identified by a community
  • identifying young people at risk of homelessness using population screening tools
  • connecting young people to appropriate supports to prevent homelessness.

2. Youth-specific and appropriate housing options

Providing youth-specific and appropriate housing options and supports can help prevent the occurrence or recurrence of homelessness. These approaches operate to keep young people securely housed, connected with family, where it is safe to do so, and linked with education, training or employment to support their transition to independent adulthood.27

Examples

The Communities of Schools and Services Model is a place-based,28 collective impact29 early intervention service-delivery and reform-orientated model. It works to identify and support vulnerable young people and their families to reduce youth homelessness, disengagement from education and early school leaving and to help where family issues are heading towards a crisis.30,31

Kids Under Cover is a place-based housing option, providing youth-specific and appropriate studio apartments for at-risk young people as well as education scholarships. It works to prevent youth homelessness and keep young people engaged in education and connected with family and their community.

Housing First for Youth is a youth-specific and appropriate housing option for at-risk/homeless young people to prevent (future) homelessness implemented in Canada. The My Foundations Youth Housing social housing model is the closest Australian example.32

Conclusion

Early intervention strategies to prevent youth homelessness are not yet widely applied; however, the emerging evidence shows promising results supporting a wider implementation. Policy makers and service providers are encouraged to consider how services can invest in early interventions to help prevent youth homelessness before it occurs and consider how rapid rehousing can be provided to young people in Australia,33 considering the low stock of social housing dwellings34 and that young people are rarely social housing main tenants.35,36

How will you use the evidence or information in this short article in your work? We would love to hear from you in the Comments field below.

Related resources

1 Giano, Z., Williams, A., Hankey, C., Merrill, R., Lisnic, R., & Herring, A. (2020). Forty years of research on predictors of homelessness. Community Mental Health Journal, 56(4), 692–709.

2 Pergamit, M., Gelatt, J., Stratford, B., Beckwith, S., & Martin, M. C. (2016). Family interventions for youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute.

3 MacKenzie, D., & Hand, T. (2019). A national report card on youth homelessness. Melbourne: Youth Development Australia & National Youth Commission. Retrieved from apo.org.au/node/225611

4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Specialist homelessness services annual report 2018–19 (Cat. no. HOU 318). Canberra: AIHW. Retrieved from www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-18-19

5 Hand, T., & MacKenzie, D. (2020). A clarion call for youth homelessness system reform. Parity, 33(3), 3236. Retrieved from find.library.unisa.edu.au/primo-explore/fulldisplay?vid=ROR&context=L&lang=en_US&id=9916433988401831

6 MacKenzie, D., Hand, T., Zufferey, C., McNelis, S., Spinney, A., & Tedmanson, D. (2020). Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people (AHURI Final Report 327). Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Retrieved from www.ahuri.edu.au/research/final-reports/327

7 MacKenzie, D. (2018). Interim report: The Geelong Project 2016–2017. Melbourne: Swinburne University and Barwon Child Youth and Family Services. Retrieved from apo.org.au/node/133006

8 Winland, D., Gaetz, S., & Patton, T. (2011). Family Matters: Homeless youth and Eva’s Initiatives “Family Reconnect” Program. Toronto, ON: The Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.

9 Winland, D., Gaetz, S., & Patton, T. (2011). Family Matters: Homeless youth and Eva’s Initiatives “Family Reconnect” Program. Toronto, ON: The Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.

10 Barker, J., Humphries, P., McArthur, M., & Thomson, L. (2012). Literature review: Effective interventions for working with young people who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Canberra: FaHCSIA. Retrieved from www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/06_2012/literature_review.pdf

11 MacKenzie, D., & Hand, T. (2019). Place-matters … Place-based ‘collective impact’: A new service delivery paradigm. Parity, 32(2), 4–5.

12 MacKenzie, D. (2018). Interim report: The Geelong Project 2016–2017. Melbourne: Swinburne University and Barwon Child Youth and Family Services. Retrieved from apo.org.au/node/133006

13 MacKenzie, D., Hand, T., Zufferey, C., McNelis, S., Spinney, A., & Tedmanson, D. (2020). Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people (AHURI Final Report 327). Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Retrieved from www.ahuri.edu.au/research/final-reports/327

14 MacKenzie, D., & Hand, T. (2020). Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people: A place-based agenda for system change. Parity, 33(3), 4144.

15 Gaetz, S., Schwan, K., Redman, M., French, D., & Dej, E. (2018). The roadmap for the prevention of youth homelessness. Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

16 Gaetz, S. (2017). THIS is Housing First for Youth: A program model guide. Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press. Retrieved from www.homelesshub.ca/HF4Y

17 Goering, P., & Streiner, D. (2015). Putting housing first: The evidence and impact. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(11), 465–466.

18 Ly, A., & Latimer, E. (2015). Housing First impact on costs and associated cost offsets: A review of the literature. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(11), 475–487.

19 MacKenzie, D., Flatau, P., Steen, A., & Thielking, M. (2016). The cost of youth homelessness in Australia: Research brief. Melbourne: Swinburne Institute for Social Research. Retrieved from apo.org.au/node/63479

20 Gaetz, S. (2020). Making the prevention of homelessness a priority: The role of social innovation. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 79(2), 353–381.

21 Hand, T., & MacKenzie, D. (2020). A clarion call for youth homelessness system reform. Parity, 33(3), 3236. Retrieved from find.library.unisa.edu.au/primo-explore/fulldisplay?vid=ROR&context=L&lang=en_US&id=9916433988401831

22 MacKenzie, D., & Hand, T. (2020). Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people: A place-based agenda for system change. Parity, 33(3), 4144.

23 Gaetz, S., Schwan, K., Redman, M., French, D., & Dej, E. (2018). The roadmap for the prevention of youth homelessness. Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

24 MacKenzie, D., Hand, T., Zufferey, C., McNelis, S., Spinney, A., & Tedmanson, D. (2020). Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people (AHURI Final Report 327). Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Retrieved from www.ahuri.edu.au/research/final-reports/327

25 MacKenzie, D. (2018). Interim report: The Geelong Project 2016–2017. Melbourne: Swinburne University and Barwon Child Youth and Family Services. Retrieved from apo.org.au/node/133006

26 Gaetz, S., Schwan, K., Redman, M., French, D., & Dej, E. (2018). The roadmap for the prevention of youth homelessness. Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

27 Hand, T., & MacKenzie, D. (2020). Young people and housing supports in Australia: Income supports, social housing and post-homelessness outcomes. Adelaide: UniSA AHURI Research Centre. Retrieved from ap01-a.alma.exlibrisgroup.com/view/delivery/61USOUTHAUS_INST/12204338730001831

28 MacKenzie, D., & Hand, T. (2019). Place-matters … Place-based ‘collective impact’: A new service delivery paradigm. Parity, 32(2), 4–5.

29 Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2013). Embracing emergence: How collective impact addresses complexity. Stanford Social Innovation Review,1–8. Retrieved from ssir.org/articles/entry/social_progress_through_collective_impact

30 Hand, T., & MacKenzie, D. (2019). Data matters: Using data in a collective impact research and development project and the backbone role of Upstream Australia. Parity, 32(6), 16–17.

31 MacKenzie, D. (2018). Interim report: The Geelong Project 2016–2017. Melbourne: Swinburne University and Barwon Child Youth and Family Services. Retrieved from apo.org.au/node/133006

32 MacKenzie, D., & Hand, T. (2020). This was nothing like the sector had ever seen … An interview with Rebecca Mullins, CEO of My Foundations Youth Housing Company. Parity, 33(3), 75–77. Retrieved from find.library.unisa.edu.au/primo-explore/fulldisplay?vid=ROR&context=L&lang=en_US&id=9916433885201831

33 MacKenzie, D., Hand, T., Zufferey, C., McNelis, S., Spinney, A., & Tedmanson, D. (2020). Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people (AHURI Final Report 327). Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Retrieved from www.ahuri.edu.au/research/final-reports/327

34 Bullen, J., & Baldry, E. (2019). ‘I waited 12 months’: How does a lack of access to housing undermine Housing First? International Journal of Housing Policy, 19(1), 120–130.

35 Hand, T. & MacKenzie, D. (2020). Missing out: Young people and social housing. Parity, 33(7), 45-49.

36 Hand, T., & MacKenzie, D. (2020). Young people and housing supports in Australia: Income supports, social housing and post-homelessness outcomes. Adelaide: UniSA AHURI Research Centre. Retrieved from ap01-a.alma.exlibrisgroup.com/view/delivery/61USOUTHAUS_INST/12204338730001831


Featured image: © GettyImages/JohnnyGreig

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Authors

David MacKenzie

David MacKenzie is an Associate Professor at the University of South Australia, Chair of Youth Development Australia and Director of Upstream Australia.

Tammy Hand

Tammy Hand is a Research Fellow at the University of South Australia and Senior Research and Development Manager at Upstream Australia.

Adam Dean

At the time of writing, Adam was a Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange.

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