Tim Foran, of Employment and Social Development Canada, gave an overview of research and policy decisions leading to the 2013 Homelessness Partnering Strategy, focused on Housing First.
Foran explained that Canada has a population of approximately 35 million people, 150,000 of whom use the emergency shelter system on an annual basis. Research has demonstrated that the homeless population experiences higher rates of mental and physical illness, as well as mortality.
In the late 1990s, the federal government became involved in homelessness programming, focusing on the emergency shelter system but, by the late 2000s, the focus changed to longer-term solutions, involving an investigation into the links between mental health and homelessness.
Foran explained that Housing First is an approach to mental health and addictions treatment that emphasizes moving clients quickly into stable, permanent housing, offering them as much choice as possible as to where they live, and separating the provision of housing from treatment – meaning that housing is not contingent on treatment. Based on the evidence behind Housing First strategies, the Mental Health Commission of Canada launched At Home/Chez Soi, a five-year study using a Housing First model, which demonstrated that Housing First could rapidly end homelessness among populations experiencing mental illness, across many different contexts and communities.
Implementing a Housing First model has involved a transition in how cities spend the money they allocate to housing as well as challenges related to partnerships, but the process has so far been successful. Foran reported that communities have embraced the evidence and need for change, and the project is well-positioned to meet its targets.