Housing is a potent catalyst for recovery. This has been well documented in previous literature as well as in the findings of this project. Secure housing means affordability, the right support, security of tenure, desirability and safety of location, and the condition of the dwelling unit itself. All of these elements add up to something that is called ‘home.’ When the elements are positively aligned, a home is a foundation, a base, and a key component of our personal lives.
Not everyone with mental illness is equally affected by housing challenges. Mental illness affects millions of Canadians and many of these people live and work in the community and are not in need of special housing supports. As we would expect, the crisis is most severe for people with more serious levels of disability. It is vital to realize that this is not a simple case of cause and effect; the inherent nature of the illness does not determine the level of support needed. People, who cannot work at some time in their life, or on a continuous basis, and as a result rely on social assistance, have a high risk of ending up homeless or poorly housed. When this happens a new factor is introduced that independently worsens mental health. People who could progress towards recovery and more independence in fact become more ill and disabled.
Our research tells two stories. One is of the many Canadians with mental illness who are unable to acquire adequate housing, and the tremendously detrimental effect this has on their physical and mental health. We also see the dramatic moral and financial costs to people and their family members as well as financial pressures on the health care system itself. The second story tells us that this does not need to be the case. Canada has a rich foundation of innovative programs and practical experience that point to the solution and show that we can do it.
Across the country there are examples of innovation by governments, agencies, and people affected by mental illness themselves. This is what is so exciting - in Canada we have the right ingredients to properly house people and provide recovery-oriented supports. We also know that by doing this, we will save money through the reduced use of expensive institutional and emergency services.