For the past four years I have had the pleasure of being involved with over 40 researchers from across Canada and the U.S. in the At Home / Chez soi Demonstration Project, the largest social experiment on homelessness in the world. The $110 million research project funded by Health Canada through the Mental Health Commission of Canada is testing the effectiveness of Housing First services for people with severe mental illness and a chronic history of homelessness in five Canadian cities, namely Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. A total of 2,265 men and women are participants in the study with 1,265 receiving Housing First services and another 990 receiving standard care.
What is Housing First? Housing First is a revolutionary approach to addressing chronic homelessness by assisting individuals with severe mental illness to move into regular housing without any pre-conditions. Housing First services provide rent subsidies and support that address needs as determined by individuals receiving the services.
What has the At Home / Chez Soi project found so far? The early findings of the study are very promising. Over the course of the first year, individuals receiving Housing First services spent 73% of their time in stable housing. In comparison, participants receiving standard care were stably housed for only 30% during that same period of time. By becoming stably housed, participants have an opportunity to begin addressing long-term health issues and build a life in the community.
Early findings also demonstrate that Housing First services make better use of public dollars especially for individuals who are frequent users of health and social services. In establishing stable housing, Housing First participants showed a significant reduction in the use of more expensive services such as hospitalizations, emergency room visits, outpatient services, shelters, and police detentions. For every dollar spent on Housing First, 54 cents is saved through the reduced use of these services.
What are the next steps to the research? We are following the study’s participants for two years and the final findings of this ambitious project will be released in early 2014. The National Film Board has released short vignettes on the research participants as they tell their story and experience in the At Home / Chez Soi project. A documentary is in the works.
Reports on early findings on the At Home / Chez Soi project can be accessed on the web at http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/Pages/homelessness.aspx.
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