Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Program Name/Specialization

Community Psychology


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Geoffrey Nelson

Advisor Role

Co Principle Investigator


The main objective of this study was to examine the effectiveness of the addition of rent assistance to Waterloo Region’s existing housing and support services. A quasi-experimental non-equivalent comparison group design was used to compare the outcomes between two groups: (a) participants selected to receive rent assistance plus intensive support services (n = 26) and (b) participants receiving support services only (n = 25). Participants were interviewed at baseline and again six months later. It was hypothesized that participants receiving rent assistance would show significantly greater improvement on housing outcomes compared to the comparison group, including greater number of days in stable housing and higher scores on perceived housing quality. It was also hypothesized that participants in the rent assistance condition would show greater improvements in: (a) quality of life, (b) social support, (c) community functioning, (d) food security, and (e) reduced use of hospital, emergency and justice services compared to participants not receiving rent assistance. In addition, qualitative interviews were conducted with a sub-sample of participants (n = 12) in order to answer the following research question: In what way does having access to rent assistance change participants’ experiences of: (a) housing, (b) service use, (c) health and well-being, (d) relationships and social support, and (e) hopes for the future? A focus group was also conducted with the direct support workers (n = 10), which was guided by the research question: What are the direct support worker perspectives on the rent assistance program and what factors helped or hindered the implementation process? Mixed model ANOVAs were run in order to determine program outcomes. As hypothesized, participants receiving rent assistance showed significantly greater improvements in housing stability and quality of life than the comparison group. Perceived housing quality was also significantly higher among the rent assistance group, as hypothesized. Participants in the rent assistance condition also showed significant improvements over time on measures of informal social support, community functioning, and food security compared to marginal improvements for the comparison group. However, the interactions between treatment and time were not statistically significant, thus providing only partial support for the hypothesis that rent assistance would improve other outcomes. Thematic analysis of the qualitative data found three life transitions that were initially identified in a larger pan-Canadian study on Housing First: (a) from street to home, (b) from home to community, and (c) from past to future. Participants receiving rent assistance were more likely to make these transitions than participants not receiving rent assistance and tended to describe more positive life experiences in housing, health and well-being, relationships and social support, and hopes for the future. The direct support worker focus group allowed for an examination of factors impacting the implementation of the rent assistance program. Findings from the focus group suggest that the addition of rent assistance empowers workers to be able to meet the housing needs of participants. However, there continued to be barriers as a result of program restrictions, landlord discrimination, and lack of affordable housing, highlighting a possible need for ongoing changes at the program, community, and societal level. Overall the findings demonstrate that rent assistance is a necessary component of any supported housing program, leading to superior housing stability, perceived housing quality, quality of life, informal social support, community functioning, and food security outcomes, and life transitions compared to participants receiving support services only. Thus, it is concluded that more funding be directed towards rent assistance in programs for people experiencing chronic homelessness across Canada.

Convocation Year