From Global Advocacy to Action: Developing Homelessness Prevention Policies and Programs

by | Feb 8, 2024 | Formation, Vincentian Family at the U.N.

Homelessness is a failure of multiple systems, representing a global challenge situated at the intersection of public health, housing affordability, domestic violence, mental illness, substance misuse, urbanization, racial and gender discrimination, climate change, migration, infrastructure, and unemployment.

Globally, there is a growing body of evidence supporting prevention strategies. Stakeholders, including the United Nations, advocate for expanding prevention strategies to avert future homelessness. The United Nations Report of the Secretary-General, Inclusive policies and programmes to address homelessness,  emphasizes the need to shift the paradigm beyond a solitary focus on emergency measures to include prevention, stating,

“Emergency accommodation and responses play a vital role in addressing sudden housing loss due to disasters or conflicts. However, short-term support is often prioritized in emergency measures, with the long-term housing and comprehensive needs of people neglected. This institutionalized focus on emergency accommodation can trap people in a system that lacks tailored psychosocial, legal and health-care assistance for integration and rehabilitation. Approaches that address homelessness as a structural issue rather than as a social emergency experienced by few individuals and that emphasize prevention and rights-based strategies have gained traction. Social protection and housing policies – including slum upgrading – play a key role in preventing homelessness. Prevention programmes need to be multifaceted and cross-sectoral, strongly tailored to the targeted populations. The objective is to address both the underlying structural factors contributing to homelessness and the specific risks that are pertinent to individual circumstances. Increased focus on prevention can be seen at the local level as well as in national strategies.”

To have a lasting impact, prevention strategies can be broadened through collaboration across sectors, policy implementation, and diversion programs that provide support to individuals at imminent risk of homelessness or facing housing insecurity. Homelessness data and consultations with people experiencing homelessness can help target specific drivers.

Homelessness prevention operates at three main levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary prevention focuses on managing housing and policies, offering tenancy support, establishing safety nets, and providing health and other services. Secondary prevention involves supporting high-risk groups on the brink of homelessness due to reasons such as eviction, relationship breakdowns, or release from prison. Tertiary prevention aims at preventing recurring homelessness.

To address the Vincentian question, “What must be done?”, communities worldwide can analyse current drivers into homelessness using data and dialogues with individuals who have lived through homelessness. This insight can guide stakeholders across sectors to collaboratively develop homelessness programs and strategies to turn off the taps.

In Chicago, the Emergency Financial Assistance Fund allocates financial aid to individuals at risk of homelessness, addressing gaps in social services by providing short-term support for rent, transportation, utilities, and other basic needs. In Australia, the Geelong Project operates within the school system, identifying at-risk students through a comprehensive survey and offering case work and support services to address their challenges. Early evaluations of the Geelong Project indicate a 40 percent reduction in students presenting at youth homeless entry points and a 20 percent reduction in school dropouts. In Uruguay, housing initiatives have been developed to prevent individuals in hospitals and institutions from being discharged into homelessness.

For more information on prevention, you can watch these IGH webinars:

By Julia Wagner, Institute of Global Homelessness


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