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Giving homeless people with mental illness a place to live works

A homeless person panhandles for money in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 13, 2010.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

WINNIPEG — A new study has found that giving homeless people a place to live first, then offering services for other issues such as mental illness and addictions, helps them become self-sufficient.

The Housing First model started in 2008 with $110 million from the federal government.

It involved 2,000 Canadians with mental illness who were homeless in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton, N.B.

The Winnipeg study was conducted between 2009 and 2013 and involved 513 people.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a Housing First intervention or usual services provided to people who are homeless.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada says the results are promising, but there needs to be a plan to prevent people from becoming homeless and make available more affordable housing.

"Working closely with all our partners, including the aboriginal community, we are proving that the Housing First approach is a winning strategy for Winnipeg — and is a solution that can be adapted to work across the country," Louise Bradley, commission president and CEO, said in a news release Friday.

In Winnipeg, the participants had mental health and medical issues, 69 per cent finished high school and all had low monthly incomes.

Ninety-one per cent of participants were unemployed at the time of the study, 52 per cent had worked steadily in the past.

In the last six months of the program, 73 per cent of the participants were housed all or some of the time. Due to low vacancy rates, it was hard to get housing and the study also suggested property owners may discriminate against aboriginal tenants.

"At Home/Chez Soi demonstrated that by working together in partnership to support the Housing First model, we can make a difference in the lives of those who are homeless, but the work must not end now," said Peter Bjornson, Manitoba minister of Housing and Community Development.

He announced that Manitoba will continue to provide housing subsidies and supports, with more than $2 million this year going to participants of the program.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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