Assessing Housing and Related Supports for Persons Living with Mental Health Problems
Published by the Community Support and Research Unit of the Center for Addition and Mental Health and the Canadian Council on Social Development. 2011.
Mental illness impacts millions of Canadians across the country. Not only is mental illness an important health issue in and of itself, but it is also intertwined with other health and social factors such as the ability to secure adequate and affordable housing. According to the Turning the Key Report, approximately 520,700 people living with a mental illness in Canada are inadequately housed while 119,800 are homeless.
The purpose of the Turning the Key report is to inform the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the public about the housing and community support needs of Canadians living with mental health problems and illnesses. To achieve this goal, information was gathered from across Canada using a thorough and comprehensive range of data collection methods including interviews, online webinars, site visits, literature reviews and provincial and territorial context mapping.
Findings of the Report
- People struggling with mental illness cannot find homes: For individuals with mental problems or illness, finding adequate housing is a significant problem. Many individuals that are experiencing mental illness live in poverty and are vulnerable to housing situations that do not meet their needs.
- This group has difficulty paying for housing: While the cost of housing has continued to rise in Canada, income levels have not. Social assistance programs, in particular, do not provide Canadians living with mental illness with enough income support to afford rising housing costs. The structure of such programs also inhibits the transition into employment.
- Individuals who suffer from mental illnesses are living in dire conditions: Individuals experiencing mental illness are living in conditions that pose considerable threat to their health and well-being. In the report, problems related to the deterioration of buildings as well as safety and accessibility concerns were found to significantly reduce health, quality of life, and opportunities for recovery.
- These individuals are not getting the help that they need: The study found that individuals with mental illness were not getting the help that they need to find housing or other services required to meet their daily needs.
- The system is uncoordinated: Results of the study suggest that the housing and mental health system is uncoordinated with gaps existing both between sectors and at different levels of government. The study calls for improved planning and monitoring across sectors, as well as increased recognition that housing is a significant health issue.
- The system is wasting lives and money: Inadequate housing and homelessness are associated with a range of negative health outcomes, which result in significant loss of life and economic burden on the health-care system. Emergency and institutional shelters, for example, cost ten times more than the cost of adequate housing and community supports for individuals living with mental illness. In the end, it is prudent to fund housing and community supports, which operate on a preventative basis, than remedial spending on problems that arise when these supports are lacking.
In addition to outlining the problems and barriers related to housing access and supports for persons living with mental illness, the Turning the Key report provides examples of the creative and innovative work being done by organizations across Canada to address these problems. Drawing from these examples and the key issues outlined above, the report recommends a series of key actions in terms of what needs to be done to improve the housing situation for individuals living with mental illness:
- The creation of affordable housing stock for individuals living with mental illness, as well as making adequate income supports available for housing.
- The development of quality insurance strategies factored into all planning with the goal of maintaining quality housing and adequate living conditions.
- Providing a range of housing and support options to meet the different levels of need experienced by individuals living with mental illness.
- Facilitating planning, partnership and coordination across sectors and levels of government to move towards a more unified approach to addressing the issue.
Overall, Turning the Key provides a comprehensive look into the current housing and support issues facing individuals living with mental illness or mental health problems. While the report calls for greater recognition of housing as a health issue and outlines the negative health effects of inadequate housing, explicitly situating housing as a social determinant of health would have been beneficial in terms of solidifying understanding and articulating the importance of creating wider environments that are protective of health (see the report Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts for more details). Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the findings and recommendations of the report are used to support the Mental Health Commission of Canadas future planning and policy work.
This report will be of interest to homelessness reduction advocates, as well as researchers, mental-health professionals and policy developers concerned about affordable housing for those living with mental illness.
Reviewed by Kayla Atkey