Bringing it All Together: Integrating Services to Address Homelessness

  • Alina Turner University of Calgary
  • Diana Krecsy


Homeless-serving systems are striving for greater impact and efficiency amidst austerity. Those with lived experience, governments, funders, and service providers have consistently and increasingly called for enhanced integration across services, organizations, systems, processes and policies as a means of maximizing existing resources. Here, the discourse of integration refers to ways of working better together across diverse internal and external organizational boundaries. At the heart of these efforts lies the assumption that integration is the desired state, an ideal that will result in improved outcomes at individual and population levels.

As actors actively engaged in homeless-serving system planning work, we draw from on-the-ground experiences in Calgary, Alberta to consider how a nuanced understanding of integration can shape the evolution of a systems planning response to homelessness. Our practical experience working in the homeless-serving system on diverse integration initiatives has prompted us to reconsider the evidence and critically probe the implicit link between systems integration efforts and improved individual and population outcomes. In some instances, we have experienced how integration efforts can result in the addition of new layers of complexity to the issue they were created to resolve in the first place. In other cases, integration efforts delivered marginal benefits given the amount of resources used as inputs into planning and implementation. Of course, there are also examples where integration spurs positive impacts at the system and target population levels.

Rather than declaring a course of action, this paper is intended to spur discussion. We are posing questions we continue to grapple with at a praxis level, which may resonate with fellow policy makers, system planner organizations, service providers and researchers. We want to go beyond conventional wisdom to probe the merits of integration as a de facto answer to complex social issues by asking:

  • What exactly is integration? 
  • When and how is integration appropriate?
  • What are the pitfalls of integration and how do we manage risks?

Findings suggest that while ventures to enhance integration remain important, they are not and cannot be the panacea to social challenges, including homelessness.  If integration is an appropriate response, we must understand what makes it work, what environment it thrives in, and what success looks like. We maintain that no matter how system integration is implemented or delivered, a central focus on the person served must be maintained, rather than systems themselves. 

Author Biography

Alina Turner, University of Calgary

Alina Turner is recognized as a leading homelessness researcher and thinker. Her PhD focused on immigration and housing and she is a Fellow at The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. She also serves on Accessible Housing’s Board of Directors.  Ms. Turner works with a variety of organizations to support human service system planning and integration, including plans to end homelessness and transitions to Housing First. She also engages in academic and applied research on issues including housing stress, poverty, domestic violence, migration and rural social issues. She has extensive experience in strategy and program development on a variety of social issues.Ms. Turner also worked for the United Way of Calgary and Area where she was responsible for leading the United Way’s policy and research portfolio on affordable housing. In 2012, she was appointed by Mayor Nenshi to serve on the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative’s leadership committee.


  1. Homelessness and affordable housing
  2. Human services system planning and policy integration


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Research Papers