An Evaluation of Housing First Programs in Calgary




Calgary is one of many cities internationally that has implemented a Housing First (HF) model for reducing homelessness. The HF model is based on the philosophy that stable housing, provided without preconditions, is a necessary prerequisite for helping someone deal with the issues that have caused them to become homeless. The original HF model, New York City’s Pathways Housing First (PHF) model, has been closely studied with the use of controlled experiments involving clients whose personal characteristics match those

for whom the model is designed. Based on the favourable evidence drawn from these controlled experiments, many jurisdictions have implemented HF programs. These include many programs that have drifted a considerable distance from the design of the Pathways model. Despite this drift in program design, HF programs continue to find support from governments comforted by the favourable results of controlled experiments.

In this paper we evaluate HF programs implemented in a real world, non-experimental setting over many years. Evaluating HF programs as they are implemented in large scale non-experimental settings is important for determining their practical usefulness to system operators and policymakers. Using richly detailed administrative datasets, we evaluate

the success of HF programs as implemented in Calgary over the period 2012 to 2018.
We identify the extent of the drift of these HF programs from the original Pathways model and show how the personal characteristics of people chosen for HF programs influence the rate of program success.

We find that HF programs in Calgary have proven very successful in graduating people to permanent housing and reducing the number of people returning to homelessness.

Fifty-five per cent of clients enrolled in HF programs, many of whom are dealing with the debilitating effects if mental health challenges, substance abuse, and prolonged periods of homelessness, remained housed in HF programs or graduate to permanent housing without case management support. We argue that this rate of success is comparable to that claimed for PHF programs evaluated under controlled conditions and for much shorter periods.

Although the devil is in his usual place when it comes to evaluating the success of any HF program, our results are suggestive that limited deviations from the Pathways model, such as those we observed in Calgary, do not significantly affect the rates of success reported from controlled experiments.

Author Biography

Ali Jadidzadeh, University of Tehran and The School of Public Policy (Research Fellow)

Ali Jadidzadeh, PhD, is an adjunct professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Tehran and a Research Fellow in The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. His research interests include homelessness and social economics.






Research Papers