National framework for defining an ‘end to homelessness’, released today


Definition needed to set clear goals to end homelessness across the country; consultations are next

TORONTO, May 16, 2016 – What does ‘ending homelessness’ mean and how do communities know if they’ve reached that goal? Those are the kinds of questions a new national definition hopes to answer, a framework of which was released today to spur discussions across the country.

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) at York University, the University of Calgary School of Public Policy (SPP) and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) collaborated in developing the draft framework, which includes an outline of critical measures and indicators.

"When talking about 'ending homelessness,' and not just managing the problem, we need to be precise. We need to know exactly what that means. This document really helps inform that conversation,” said York U Professor Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (Homeless Hub).

The COH and School of Public Policy sought the perspective of those who have experienced homelessness and analyzed the content of 60 existing plans and strategies in Canada, the United States, Australia and Europe. In Canada, the multi-tier nature of homelessness initiatives made it necessary to look at all three levels of government to understand the current situation.

“A national definition can help us address concerns and skepticism about what it really means to end homelessness and help drive our efforts by providing clear goals,” said Alina Turner, lead author and Fellow with the School of Public Policy. “There was so much variation internationally in the definitions and the measures different communities used, that it was difficult to see what progress was being made. This makes it difficult to determine the benchmarks for success.”

The proposed definition takes into account structural and systemic factors, such a poverty, access to affordable housing, mental addiction and lifecycle stage, which interact in complex ways to impact homelessness.

“The framework needs to be holistic in its approach by tackling all elements that contribute to homelessness from public systems and services for the homeless to the individual lived experience. The definition needs to resonate with those experiencing homelessness,” said Dr. Turner.

Some of the indicators in the newly proposed definition include:

  • Participants in a homeless-serving system must report high satisfaction and have been included in the decision-making to develop and deliver services
  • All unsheltered persons should be engaged with services and have been offered low-barrier shelter and housing at least every two weeks.
  • The length of stay in an emergency shelter or unsheltered is less than 10 days on average and no more than 60 in a year for any one individual.
  • The number of homeless moving into permanent housing must be greater than or equal to the number entering the homeless-serving system during a continuous 90-day period.
  • No more than five per cent of those who exit programs return to homelessness within 12 months.
  • City laws do not criminalize people who are unsheltered.

Key stakeholders across the country will be consulted to finalize a national definition so everyone can work toward the same measurable goal of ending homelessness. The hope is to finalize the definition at the CAEH annual conference in October 2016.

To provide feedback on the draft framework, please send an email to, Subject Line: Functional Zero. The Deadline to provide feedback is July 30, 2016. There will also be a Webinar on Tuesday, May 17, from 1pm to 2:30pm EDT. Registration details can be found here:

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