Who gets stuck in shelter? How many are chronically homeless? Are all the same people using all the same shelter beds? Is shelter becoming housing? These are just some of the questions that come up in discussions of refinishing our homelessness and shelter services. The current goal in London is to move emergency shelters back to being just emergency shelters, not a replacement for affordable housing. However, to manage this, we need to know something about those who are using these shelters.
This article by Aubry, Farrell, Hwang and Calhoun starts to unpack those numbers, particularly in finding three clusters of shelter use: 1) Temporary (few, short stays); 2) Episodic (many, short stays); 3) Long-stay (few, long stays). At first blush, the numbers demonstrate what we have long known, that homelessness for most is a temporary situation – with those in the temporary shelter stay cluster accounting for 88-94%. However, this is a representation of total shelter users over time. A snapshot of a shelter at a moment in time shows that between 25-40% of current residents are in the Long-stay cluster.
So, although the temporary group represents that most individuals who will have any shelter use, the episodic and long-stay groups will occupy far more of the beds on any given night. This leads us to consider how best to free up shelter beds?
I would predict that those in the long-stay group are the same individuals identified as needing more support in our work on medical respite: those with the most complex health and social challenges, namely concurrent addictions and mental health challenges. These individuals require the most supports to be successfully housed, and therefore are more likely to be ‘stuck’ in shelters. Putting the pressure solely on shelters to move these people out negates that wrap-around supports that are required.