Introduction to Housing First for Youth

I. What is Housing First for Youth?

Training Introduction

This lesson provides an overview of the Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) program model along with an introduction to key issues in understanding youth homelessness.

Learning objectives
  • Describe why a youth-focused model of housing and supports is needed to prevent and end youth homelessness
  • List major factors that contribute to youth pathways into homelessness
  • Explain the reasons why youth's experiences of homelessness should be as brief as possible.

In the 2018 report, What Would It Take? Youth Across Canada Speak Out on Youth Homeless Prevention (Schwan, 2018), young people shared their perspectives on their experiences of homelessness and their thoughts on youth homelessness prevention.

The report aimed to “amplify the voices, insights, and wisdom of these young people in order to drive policy and practice change” (p.1). These insights are helpful to understand the unique needs of young people who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and why we need to think about a new approach to homelessness that emphasizes prevention.

Between July 2017 and January 2018, A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness consulted with over 100 youth on what it would take to prevent youth homelessness in Canada.

Youth were asked if they had anyone to help them figure out what to do once they became homeless. 
Almost all youth across the country said they had no one.

For me, there’s nothing that could’ve [prevented me from becoming homeless], because starting out I was already in the foster care system, and when I left the foster care system they gave me two garbage bags and told me to get the hell out.


My trauma led me down a wrong path, and I didn’t know that I had ... places where I could go to access help for that. And my family didn’t know how to support me with my mental health. So they ended up giving up on me because they didn’t know... how. And they didn’t have... anyone show them or teach them how to take care of someone with those circumstances.


Youth talked about the challenges of accessing services and the discrimination they encountered.

They were saying that the waitlist was going to be like, 3 months and if you’re homeless, you don’t want to wait like 3 months to get a place ...You want a place that you can feel secure and be stable and not being on like, ‘Is somebody going to come rob me? Or shank me while I’m sleeping on the street?’ You don’t want to worry about getting murdered. You want to feel safe.


It sucks being in that position; you’re homeless, and the first thing you need is a job, because how do you pay a house deposit? Well you need money! How do you get money? Work!


They reported feeling that they weren’t being listened to and their needs were not recognized.

I didn’t fit the certain criteria—they were like, ‘Well, you’re in a house,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, well I’m in a house but I don’t eat every day, I don’t go to school, I don’t... and they’re were like, ‘Well, we can’t do anything about it.


Oh, you’re couch-surfing? Oh, that means you have a safe place to go tonight.’ NO, THAT DOESN’T. When I went to [agency], they said I haven’t been homeless long enough.


Instead of, like, when their bank account is zero and they’re on the street, and THEN you help them. Why didn’t you do it when they had a few dollars and a couple of days left? Why couldn’t you do it then?


Youth were clear – we are waiting too long to intervene when a young person is at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness.

There aren’t really any programs to help at-risk youth kids before they’re homeless. It’s only once you’re homeless.


Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) is a rights-based intervention for young people (aged 13–24) who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The goal of HF4Y is to provide immediate access to housing and housing stability. Another equally important goal is to support young people to make a healthy transition to adulthood. HF4Y can be considered both an intervention and a program model. It can also be used by communities as a philosophy to guide their local response to youth homelessness.

The goal of HF4Y is to stabilize a young person's housing situation, while at the same time, providing the supports, services, and case management needed to enhance personal well-being. To achieve this goal, young people may be provided with housing or financial support in the form of rent supplements. Central to the HF4Y program model is a case management approach with an emphasis on relationship-based engagements with young people. Young people are supported to explore opportunities and make choices to pursue their goals. They may decide to re-engage with school or work, address mental health or substance use issues, reconnect with family or focus on their own wellbeing.

HF4Y supports and services cannot be time limited.  Young people are given access to supports for as long as they need them, so they can build on their strengths, develop skills, grow, explore talents and dreams in order to make a healthy transition to adulthood.

HF4Y is Distinct from ‘Housing First’

HF4Y is an adaptation of the adult Housing First model, but it is based on the understanding that the causes and conditions of youth homelessness are distinct from adults, and therefore the solutions must be youth-focused. HF4Y is grounded in the belief that all young people have a right to housing and that those who have experienced homelessness will do better and recover more effectively if they are first provided with housing.

There are a broad range of housing-led programs that may be beneficial for clients under the age of 25 or specifically targeted at youth. However, not all of these interventions are consistent with the HF4Y model. This may include programs that provide temporary or interim housing, including transitional housing, supportive housing and supported lodgings, or agency-specific housing that require young people to move out once they have completed the program or have reached a specific age. These programs often require participants to comply with a series of conditions, which may include time limits on how long young people can access services, a failure to separate housing from other supports, and the withdrawal of housing once a young person exits the program. To be clear, none of these conditions are consistent with the HF4Y core principles.

Housing First programs that are designed for adults that also include young people under the age of 25 cannot be considered HF4Y because they do not meet the needs of developing adolescents and young people. Even though HF4Y is an adaptation of the Pathways model, there are clear distinctions between the two in terms of core principles, program goals and outcomes, and approach case management.