Housing First, Affordable Housing, and Ending Homelessness in Alberta

  • Author / Creator
    Anderson, Jalene T
  • This thesis examines the Housing First (HF) approach to ending homelessness in Alberta, with a focus on how it has been constrained by shortages of affordable housing. It reports on qualitative multiple case study research centred on three cities that have adopted the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness policy model: Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat. The objectives of this research were: (1) To assess if constraints on the supply of affordable housing in Alberta influence the ability of HF programs to follow through on key HF principles, such as client choice; (2) To evaluate how constraints on Alberta’s affordable housing supply influence the long-term housing sustainability of clients in HF programs; and (3) To determine progress towards the policy goal of ending homelessness in Alberta by 2019. The research draws on in-person interviews with 48 participants (29 service providers and 19 service users) in the case study cities, conducted between July 2014 and January 2015. Analysis of interview data used the ‘framework’ approach, which was specifically developed for applied policy research. Through a five-step analytic process, a series of themes emerged out of participants’ accounts of HF, affordable housing and homelessness in Alberta. Four key findings can be drawn from this research. First, HF in principle and practice in Alberta is characterized by a high degree of ambiguity. Although some programs shared guiding principles or program structures, service providers’ conceptions of HF and understandings of the HF model varied widely. Service users’ experiences with HF were equally variable, with major differences in the types and duration of services received. Second, housing market characteristics, chiefly low vacancy rates and a limited supply of affordable housing, were a major influencing factor on the operation of HF programs in Edmonton and Calgary, and to a lesser extent Medicine Hat. Despite challenges, service providers demonstrated that barriers could be overcome by means of strategies such as developing positive relationships with landlords. In some cases, the constraints imposed by the housing market created competing demands and forced service providers to prioritize certain HF principles (such as client choice) at the expense of others (such as rapid housing). Third, constraints on the supply of affordable housing in Alberta undermine the long-term housing sustainability of HF program participants. The market context creates a situation in which rental subsidies are almost always necessary for HF clients to afford housing costs. In addition, when clients ‘graduate’ from HF programs, they may struggle to retain housing without ongoing financial supports. Housing unaffordability continues to generate new cases of homelessness, and many housed service users in this study were at risk of homelessness. Finally, despite a large investment in HF at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, key parts of a comprehensive approach to ending homelessness continue to fall short. There remains a critical shortage of affordable rental units across the country. On smaller scales where housing is generally more abundant and affordable (e.g. in cities such as Medicine Hat), a HF approach has succeeded in ending chronic homelessness, proving that it can achieve its potential when the right conditions prevail. However, HF alone is not sufficient to ‘end’ homelessness as a social and urban phenomenon.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Specialization
    • Human Geography
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Damian Collins (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Vera Caine (Faculty of Nursing)
    • Leith Deacon (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)