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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.


Reprinted from Supported Housing issue of Visions journal, 2017, 12 (3), p. 5

This glossary defines some of the key terms you may come across in this issue of Visions. All definitions were compiled from various sources by Visions staff and don’t necessarily represent the views of those who contributed to this issue.

Absolute homelessness: People are considered absolutely homeless if they have no physical shelter at all. These are people who are living on the street or in emergency shelters. 

Abstinence-based or dry housing: Housing where tenants are not allowed to drink alcohol or use other drugs while in tenancy. Tenants are expected to be "clean" before moving in and actively working on their recovery while living there. Tenants may be discharged from the program if they refuse treatment for a relapse.

ACT team: Assertive community treatment teams. ACT team members provide one-on-one support for people who experience a mental illness or substance use problem and benefit from more intensive care than is normally found in community treatment programs. ACT teams assist with treatment and recovery and help people build life skills, work towards employment, secure and stay in housing, and other goals. An ACT team may include professionals like a psychiatrist or psychologist, registered nurse, social worker, occupational therapist and peer support specialist. 

At Home/Chez Soi: A project from the Mental Health Commission of Canada that studied a Housing First approach to housing projects in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton. 

Congregate housing: Housing units that are located in a common building where all the tenants are part of the program. Also known as a dedicated site.

Emergency housing or shelters: Short-term shelter for people who are in crisis or have no other housing options. Some shelters also provide meals and support services to the people who stay there. Shelters may operate all year, or they may only operate during cold or extreme weather.

Group home: A home that is shared by a number of tenants who are generally expected to participate in shared living arrangements and activities. There is usually 24-hour support staff on site.

Harm reduction: A philosophy that focuses on the risks and consequences of a particular behaviour rather than on the behaviour itself. In terms of substance use, it means focusing on strategies to reduce harm from high-risk use, rather than insisting on abstinence. Underlying harm reduction is the acceptance that many people use substances, and that a drug-free society is both an unrealistic and impractical goal. With regard to housing, harm reduction means that tenants have access to services to help them address their substance use. It is based on the understanding that recovery is a long process, and that users need a stable living arrangement in order to overcome their addictions.

Housing allowance or shelter allowance: The portion of income assistance payments that is meant to be used to pay rent or other shelter costs. In BC, a single person receiving income or disability assistance receives $375 per month for rent or shelter costs.

Housing First: Housing where tenants are not expected to abstain from using alcohol and other drugs, and where entering a rehabilitation program is not a requirement. Tenants have access to recovery services and get to decide if and when they use these services. This approach to housing is also called wet housing. Housing First is low-barrier housing and follows a harm reduction philosophy. 

Low-barrier housing: Housing where a minimum number of expectations are placed on people who wish to live there. The aim is to have as few barriers as possible to allow more people access to services. In housing this often means that tenants are not expected to abstain from using alcohol or other drugs, or from carrying on with street activities while living on-site, so long as they do not engage in these activities in common areas of the house and are respectful of other tenants and staff. Low-barrier facilities follow a harm reduction philosophy. 

Microhousing: Very small homes, usually less than 300 square feet per person, meant to maximize the number of people who can live in smaller spaces or lots while reducing housing costs.

Permanent housing: Long-term housing with no maximum length of stay.

Private market rentals: Traditional rental housing that is run by private landlords rather than a housing program. Tenants pay the full cost of the rentals, though they may be eligible for rent subsidies from a government or non-profit housing provider.

Relative or at-risk of homelessness: People who are living in sub-standard, unstable or unsafe housing. This includes people who are couch surfing, staying with family or friends, or living in overcrowded, unsafe, or unsanitary conditions.

Semi-independent living (SIL): Housing units are spread out in various locations around the community rather than all in one common building. These apartments offer varying levels of support services for tenants and may be either market or social housing. Also known as scattered site housing.

Single room occupancy (SRO): Small, one-room apartments that are rented on a monthly or weekly basis. Tenants share common bathrooms and sometimes also share kitchen facilities.

Social housing: Housing provided by the government or a community-based non-profit organization.

Subsidized housing: Housing that receives funding from the government or community organization. Tenants who live in subsidized housing pay rent that is less than market value.

Supported housing or supportive housing: Affordable housing where the tenants have access to support services in addition to housing. These services vary and can include: life skills training, such as job training and income management training; medical care; social activities and case management.

Transitional housing: Time-limited, affordable, supported or independent housing. Tenants can usually remain in transitional housing for up to two or three years.

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