Open Access Open Badges Research article

Moving from rhetoric to reality: adapting Housing First for homeless individuals with mental illness from ethno-racial groups

Vicky Stergiopoulos12*, Patricia O’Campo13, Agnes Gozdzik1, Jeyagobi Jeyaratnam1, Simon Corneau4, Aseefa Sarang5 and Stephen W Hwang16

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Research on Inner City Health, The Keenan Research Centre in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, 30 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1 W8, Canada

2 Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, 250 College Street, 8th Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1R8, Canada

3 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Health Sciences Building, 6th floor, 155 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 3 M7, Canada

4 Sexology Department, Université du Québec à Montréal, Case postale 8888, succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, H3C 3P8, Canada

5 Across Boundaries: An Ethno-racial Mental Health Centre, 51 Clarkson Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M6E 2 T5, Canada

6 Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:345  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-345

Published: 2 October 2012



The literature on interventions addressing the intersection of homelessness, mental illness and race is scant. The At Home/Chez Soi research demonstration project is a pragmatic field trial investigating a Housing First intervention for homeless individuals with mental illness in five cities across Canada. A unique focus at the Toronto site has been the development and implementation of a Housing First Ethno-Racial Intensive Case Management (HF ER-ICM) arm of the trial serving 100 homeless individuals with mental illness from ethno-racial groups. The HF ER-ICM program combines the Housing First approach with an anti-racism/anti-oppression framework of practice. This paper presents the findings of an early implementation and fidelity evaluation of the HF ER-ICM program, supplemented by participant narrative interviews to inform our understanding of the HF ER-ICM program theory.


Descriptive statistics are used to describe HF ER-ICM participant characteristics. Focus group interviews, key informant interviews and fidelity assessments were conducted between November 2010 and January 2011, as part of the program implementation evaluation. In-depth qualitative interviews with HF ER-ICM participants and control group members were conducted between March 2010 and June 2011. All qualitative data were analysed using grounded theory methodology.


The target population had complex health and social service needs. The HF ER-ICM program enjoyed a high degree of fidelity to principles of both anti-racism/anti-oppression practice and Housing First and comprehensively addressed the housing, health and sociocultural needs of participants. Program providers reported congruence of these philosophies of practice, and program participants valued the program and its components.


Adapting Housing First with anti-racism/anti-oppression principles offers a promising approach to serving the diverse needs of homeless people from ethno-racial groups and strengthening the service systems developed to support them. The use of fidelity and implementation evaluations can be helpful in supporting successful adaptations of programs and services.

Trial registration

Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN42520374