6. Service Preferences of Homeless Youth with Mental Illness: Housing First, Treatment First, or Both Together

In this chapter, we present the initial findings from a large, ongoing, mixed-methods (i.e. combines statistical and narrative methods) study, called Youth Matters in London: Mental Health, Addiction and Homelessness, involving 187 homeless youth living with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness and/or an addiction. Participating youth are being followed over a period of time in order to gain insight into their preferences regarding housing and mental health treatment options. Specifically, the goal of the study is to provide participants with a choice between three treatment and service options: 1) housing first; 2) mental health and addiction treatment first; or, 3) both housing and mental health and addiction treatment at the same time, and then track the results. Our initial data show that getting housing is a very urgent concern for both female and male participants. This comes from the idea that housing provides stability, allowing youth to begin pursuing other goals. It was also found that without the stability of housing, one is more likely to be influenced by environmental and psycho-social stresses – that is, stress associated with poor weather conditions, lack of safe places to sleep (especially in cities), as well as peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol. Participants indicated that a lack of housing can worsen mental health issues, or cause one to turn/return to substance use as way to cope with the stress of being involved in street life and/or experiencing homelessness.

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Gaetz, Stephen
O’Grady, Bill
Buccieri, Kristy
Karabanow, Jeff
Marsolais, Allyson
Publication Date: 
Canadian Observatory On Homelessness