Research suggests that homeless people with mental illness may have difficulty obtaining employment and disability benefits. Our study provides a comprehensive description of sources of income and employment rates in a large Canadian sample.
Participants (n = 2085) from the 5 sites of the At Home/Chez Soi study were asked about their income, employment, and desire for work during the pre-baseline period. The proportion of participants employed, receiving government support, and relying on income from other activities were compared across sites, as were total income and income from different sources. Generalized linear models were used to identify participant characteristics associated with total income.
Unemployment ranged from 93% to 98% across 5 sites. The per cent of participants who wanted to work ranged from 61% to 83%. Participants relied predominantly on government assistance, with 29.5% relying exclusively on welfare, and 46.2% receiving disability benefits. Twenty-eight per cent of participants received neither social assistance nor disability income. Among the 2085 participants, 6.8% reported income from panhandling, 2.1% from sex trade, and 1.2% from selling drugs. Regression models showed that income differed significantly among sites and age groups, and was significantly lower for people with psychotic illnesses.
These results suggest that homeless people with mental illness are predominantly unemployed, despite expressing a desire to work. In Canada, this group relies predominantly on welfare, but has access to disability benefits and employment insurance. These findings highlight the importance of developing effective interventions to support employment goals and facilitate access to benefits.