issues and experts

Adults who were homeless as children struggle to maintain housing, even with support

October 08, 2021

October 10 marks World Homeless Day

People who experienced homelessness as children are far more likely to be at risk of homelessness again as adults, even after they receive housing and social supports.

Simon Fraser University researchers who’ve studied the long-term consequences of childhood homelessness cite the importance of prevention and further supports for people accessing recovery-oriented housing if they’ve experienced homelessness early in life.

“We found that even when provided with housing and supports that have been found to be highly effective on average, people who experienced homelessness in their childhood or youth were more likely to struggle with maintaining housing stability than people who first experienced homelessness later in their life,” says Julian Somers, a clinical psychologist and SFU distinguished professor of health sciences. 

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects of childhood and youth homelessness but the findings speak to the importance of intervening earlier in life before children and youth become homeless so that it doesn’t become a chronic condition.”

For their study published earlier this year, researchers tracked nearly 300 people experiencing homelessness and mental illness in Metro Vancouver and who received recovery-oriented housing provided by the project’s coalition of not-for-profit agencies, clinical professionals, and private sector landlords and employers. 

The project provided clients with long-term support toward recovery and immediate access to permanent housing, health and social services. Recovery-oriented housing delivers dramatically superior results compared to mainstream practices for people who have experienced long-term homelessness, addictions and mental illnesses. Despite its strengths, between 15 to 20 per cent of clients still struggle with housing instability after receiving recovery-oriented housing.

SFU researchers investigated the association between experiencing homelessness earlier in life and housing stability with recovery-oriented housing.

Of the 297 participants, 44 per cent reported first experiencing homelessness in their childhood or youth. 

The researchers found that those who experienced homelessness in their childhood or youth faced greater difficulties establishing stability over two years in recovery-oriented housing.

“The experience of homelessness as a child or youth was significantly associated with lower odds of experiencing housing stability,” says Somers.
The research team suggests that front line service providers consider asking clients if they’ve experienced homelessness in childhood or youth and being prepared to adapt services. 

They also say more research is needed to ensure that the scientifically well-established benefits of recovery-oriented housing are optimally experienced by all clients.


JULIAN SOMERS, professor, health sciences  |


MATT KIELTYKA,  SFU Communications & Marketing 
236.880.2187 |

Simon Fraser University
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