Exploring Frameworks and Processes for Tracking and Monitoring Service and Housing Wait Times Relevant to the Prevention and Exit from Youth Homelessness

Tyler Frederick, PhD Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Ann De Shalit, PhD Assistant Professor, Department of Gender and Social Justice, Trent University

What is this research about?

Waitlists for housing and social services are cited as a barrier to transitioning away from homelessness for young people. However, it is difficult to know the extent of this issue because wait times are not tracked or reported consistently. Tracking wait times has significant policy, advocacy, research, and service implications. This includes the ability to identify sectors requiring systemic change and recognize patterns of systemic inequity.

Understanding the barriers to tracking and reporting wait times for housing services is important. In addition, we must develop strategies to make such information more available to local communities. This research aims to not only shed light on the extent of this issue, but also undertake a policy review towards understanding how we can better monitor and report housing and service wait times at a local level.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers conducted over 40 interviews with stakeholders, including local administrators in charge of housing and by-name lists, provincial administrators, wait time researchers, and data experts.

What did the researchers find?

  1. The researchers found that tracking and publishing wait time information for housing services is a complex issue. Local communities were in different stages of development when it came to how they collected and reported wait time information about housing, with many local communities in the early stages of establishing by-name lists and other monitoring strategies. Also, there are numerous issues to overcome when tracking wait time data, including capacity within communities to input and manage data, and definitional issues about when to start measuring someone’s wait time. The researchers also found that tracking and monitoring rarely considered young people specifically and that doing so requires additional consideration and planning.
  2. As for opportunities, the use of housing by-name lists in many Ontario communities and the popular use of the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) to manage them (though not universal) is promising. HIFIS even includes an under utilized wait time function.
  3. Among mental health services, the diverse range of services makes wait times particularly difficult to track. However, within Ontario, there are two separate teams working on tracking mental health wait times. These systems are encouraging, but they point toward the need for political advocacy and pressure to ensure that these systems are designed to share wait time information with the public and local communities.

How can you use this research?

Audiences can use this research to learn about the current barriers and opportunities for monitoring and reporting housing and services wait times at a local level.

Policymakers should invest in local communities to build data management capacity and facilitate information sharing and best practices across regions and municipalities. HIFIS is a promising tool for communities to track and report wait times, but dedicated efforts need to be made to capture and share relevant and timely information within local communities. Further, efforts need to be made to ensure that wait time tracking happens in an ethical way that ensures tracking practices are aimed at system improvement, not surveillance. Moreover, local communities should use this information to have conversations about the capacity and processes that need to be developed to be able to track and monitor wait times for more efficient and effective use of services.