Mentally ill get housing in study

TheStar.co, – Homes – Mentally ill get housing in study
November 23, 2009.    Noor Javed STAFF REPORTER

The largest project in Canada’s history to study the link between mental illness and homelessness kicks off Monday, offering hope – and a home – to more than 1,300 street people across the country.

Housing first, rehabilitation will follow – that’s the philosophy behind a national research project on homelessness and mental illness being launched by the new Mental Health Commission of Canada.

It’s a non-profit organization funded by Ottawa to focus attention on mental health issues and improve the health and social prospects of those homeless with mental illness.

“Traditionally, people have to be pretty stable before they are offered housing. Often they have to be clean and sober. In this approach, the housing is offered first,” said Dr. Jayne Barker.

Barker is project director of the At Home initiative being introduced in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Moncton.

Altogether, 1,325 people will be given a place to live and social services during the study, which is to get $110 million in funding over the next five years. Participants are expected to contribute 30 per cent of their income, including welfare and disability payments. (Canada has an estimated 300,000 homeless people.)

Participants will also meet weekly with psychiatrists, social workers and front-line workers to get access to treatment and medical help.

“It is only after the person is housed that they are offered choices about how they want to deal with their addiction or mental health issues,” said Barker.

“How can people who have to worry about where they will sleep tonight or where their next meal is going to come from … start to think about their depression or anxiety or schizophrenia?”

The program is modelled after the successful Pathways to Housing Project, which was founded in New York City in 1992 and has since spread out to 40 cities worldwide.

In Toronto, 565 people will be part of the project, with 300 to get apartments, mostly downtown, said Dr. Stephen Hwang, with the Centre of Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital.

(More than half of those getting housing will be from immigrant and ethno-racial groups.)

So far, 20 people have been enrolled here, and one person has received housing.

Participants come mostly from the shelter system.

In 2005, the city launched a similar project called Streets to Homes, but Hwang said the new program is specifically aimed at homeless people with mental illness.

< http://www.yourhome.ca/homes/newsfeatures/article/729389–mentally-ill-get-housing-in-study >

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