An environmental scan of promising practices of shelter/housing that support aging in the right place for older people experiencing homelessness in Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver

January 20, 2021

Walsh, CA, Humphries, J, Dharshi, N, Burns, VF, Sussman, T, Hagner, J, & Canham, SL. (2021, Jan). An environmental scan of promising practices of shelter/housing that support aging in the right place for older people experiencing homelessness in Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver [paper presentation]. 2021 Society for Social Work and Research Conference [virtual].  


Background and Purpose:

Montréal, Vancouver, and Calgary are the second, third, and fourth most populatedmetropolitan areas in Canada, respectively, and have seen an increasing number of older people experiencing homelessness(OPEH) over the last decade. However, little is known about the availability and characteristics of supportive shelter/housing options that can meet their needs. ‘Promising practices’ are innovative solutions that have not been subject to rigorousevaluation, but hold the promise of supporting aging in the right place for OPEH. This study sought to identify promisingpractice shelter/housing models for OPEH in Montréal, Calgary, and Vancouver.


We conducted an environmental scan in each city by collecting data from Internet and print materials onshelter/housing models that promote aging in the right place for OPEH, as well as informal conversations with providers. Inaddition, 51 health, housing, and social service providers and 38 OPEH (N=89) participated in one of three World Cafés(held in Montréal (n=23), Calgary (n=30), and Vancouver (n=36) to identify gaps in the Internet and print material scanand understand the capacity and functioning of the identified promising practices. Lists of promising practices from each citywere generated, combined, and compared for similarities and differences by the research team in an iterative process toadd, remove, organize, and reorganize the promising practices. Once a final list was determined through multiple rounds ofdiscussion with four researchers, the promising practices were categorized into six shelter/housing types along a continuum.


We identified 52 promisingpractices, which we categorized into six shelter/housing types along a continuum: 1)Emergency, temporary, or transitionalshelter/housing; 2) Independent living with offsite supports (i.e., community-basedsupports); 3) Supported independent living withonsite, non-medical supports; 4) Permanent supportive housing with onsitemedical support and/orspecialized services; 5) Long-term care, offering specialized healthcare for individuals with complexhealth needs; and 6) Palliative care/hospice.

Conclusions and Implications:

Findings offer a template of a shelter/housing continuum needed for diverse OPEH to agein the right place and highlight concrete, real-world examples of shelter/housing for OPEH. Cataloguing and categorizing promising practices in Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver offers a mechanism by which other regions can audit their existingshelter/housing options for OPEH and determine where there may be gaps in supporting OPEH to age in the right place. However, few promising practices were identified that specialize in meeting the cultural needs of racial minority OPEH andnone were found that specifically serve Indigenous or sexual minority OPEH. Without available and appropriateshelter/housing options, OPEH are excluded from aging in place and instead left to age in environments that may not meettheir needs. Notably, emergency, transitional, or temporary shelter/housing, long-term care, and palliative care/hospiceoptions are limited in all three cities. Finding mechanisms by which to scale up promising practices that meet theshelter/housing needs of diverse OPEH will contribute to more sustainable and inclusive communities.