Guidelines for the Homeless and Vulnerably Housed

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Homeless Health Network is a group of researchers and healthcare providers who are developing homeless health guidelines for Canada. Homeless health guidelines are a set of evidence-based recommendations on how to best address the health and social needs of homeless and vulnerably housed populations in Canada.

Prioritizing issues and populations

People experiencing homelessness in Canada face a long list of barriers and challenges to their health and well-being. There are also specific groups within the homeless population that face unique challenges. As part of the guideline development process, the Homeless Health Network consulted healthcare workers and people with lived homeless experience across Canada to identify the four top issues that the homeless health guidelines should focus on. They also helped identify which parts of the homeless population the guidelines should focus on.

Top four issues to prioritize Top four populations to prioritize
  • Facilitating access to housing
  • Mental health and addiction care
  • Care coordination/case management
  • Facilitating access to income
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Women
  • Youth
  • People with disabilities

Understanding the challenges facing homeless and vulnerably-housed women

Women who are homeless or vulnerably housed face a set of challenges that are different than those facing men. They often face intimate partner violence or substandard housing conditions due to overcrowding. Women with children are less likely to live on the street but may “couch surf” or rely on temporary housing with friends or relatives. Because of this, it is important to connect these women with effective resources or interventions.

Key players in the guideline development process

The research team

The Homeless Health Guidelines Initiative is driven by the Department of Family Medicine’s Dr. Kevin Pottie with the support of his research team.  Dr. Pottie is a Clinician Investigator at the C.T. Lamont Primary Health Care Research Center, Bruyère Research Institute, and at the Center for Global Health, Institute of Population Health. He currently leads the European Union Evidence Based Guidelines for Newly Arriving Migrants and the Canadian Collaboration for Immigrant and Refugee Health and practices as a family physician.

Engaging Medical Students

Medical students are playing a key role in shaping the future of homeless healthcare. They are exposed to key social determinants of health and how they are confounded by integral environmental factors such as housing, food access, safety, and community supports. In translating knowledge into practice, it is important to encourage more first-hand exposure and interaction with populations that are in need.

The Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) has a medical student task force of Homelessness that advocates for increased awareness about homelessness healthcare, with a focus on identifying core objectives and competencies to guide the development of curriculum for undergraduate medical trainees, as well as provide more perspective regarding lived issues surrounding homelessness.

What’s next?

It is important to find out what research exists about this topic. For this, The Homeless Health Network is using an Evidence and Gap Map (EGM), in order to make better-informed decisions about healthcare. Canadian Evidence-Based Guidelines for Homeless and Vulnerably Housed Persons to follow in the spring.


"I am currently a frontline peer support worker. In my younger years, I worked as a nurse and lived through periods of homelessness and other undesirable circumstances like substance use, violence, abuse and criminalization. All of these experiences have enabled me, however, to help others experiencing the burden of homelessness through my involvement in harm reduction programs and collaborating with research initiatives.

My goals in joining this project are to provide a different perspective as someone who has actually struggled and scrambled through the maze of not having a home, experiencing stigma and not knowing what resources were available out there to help me. I want to remind others that the client or patient’s personal goals are always a priority, which can sometimes be overlooked by clinicians. People-centered care is about just that, the person. "

- Christine Lalonde, part of the Network’s Community Scholar Program

“Creating safe spaces for disclosure is a necessary first step toward safe and stable housing, employment, family stability, and mental wellness. In these spaces, women can openly speak about their living conditions without fear of stigma. This will help them feel empowered and become independent once again.”

- Dr. Anne Andermann, MD

Be in the know about current research on homeless health!

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