The relationship between mental health problems and homelessness and access to housing is complex. Individuals with mental health problems or mental illnesses are predisposed to experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness, and poor mental health can be caused, triggered or aggravated by homelessness or housing that does not meet a certain standard of adequacy, affordability and suitability.
In Canada, access to housing for people with mental health problems has evolved over time; from poorhouses and prisons in the 1800s, to psychiatric hospitals by the 1900s, to a process of deinstitutionalization beginning in the 1960s. Since the 1990s, those working in the Canadian mental health care system and advocates in the mental health field have displayed a greater awareness of the critical relationship between mental health and housing, in particular the role housing plays in recovery and well-being.
Because many mental illnesses are undiagnosed, particularly in the homeless population, in this publication the term mental health problem will encompass both poor mental health – such as feelings of loneliness, worthlessness and hopelessness – and mental illnesses – such as schizophrenia or depression.