Mental Health Commission of Canada Launches National Research Project to Find
Sustainable Solutions for People With Mental Health Issues Who Are Homeless

Winnipeg demonstration project will investigate 'Housing First' approach for benefit of Aboriginal people who are homeless and living with a mental illness

WINNIPEG, Nov. 23 /CNW Telbec/ - Winnipeg is one of five cities selected by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) for implementation of its ground-breaking national research project to find the best way to provide housing and services to people who are living with mental illness and homelessness. Using a 'Housing First' approach, the research project focuses on first providing people who are homeless with a place to live, and then the other assistance and services they require. The goal is to see if the Aboriginal homeless population can benefit from this kind of approach.

Up to 550 people who are homeless and living with a mental illness living in Winnipeg will be among the 2,285 participants in the national study. Of these, as many as 300 local participants in the project group will be given a place to live and offered a range of support services such as help with shopping or getting to a doctor's appointment to help them over the course of the study. The rest of the participants will receive the services that are currently available in the five test sites. Participants in both groups will be compared to see which approach works best.

"The overall mental health status of Aboriginal people in Canada is poorer than that of non-Aboriginal people by almost any measure," said Marcia Thomson, Winnipeg Project Site Coordinator. "In addition, Aboriginal people are at much higher risk of homelessness due to other compounding factors such as challenges of rural to urban migration, inadequate housing conditions on reserve, inability to secure housing in urban settings, and lack of culturally appropriate support to reduce the risk of housing instability."

The At Home/Chez Soi project is the largest of its kind in Canada. The research will help make Canada a world leader in providing better services to people living with homelessness and mental illness. Each test site focuses on a specific target population within the overall study group.

Winnipeg, which has the largest Aboriginal identity population of all Canadian cities, will focus on the needs of Aboriginal people. Moncton will examine the shortages of services for Anglophones and Francophones; Montreal will focus on the outcomes related to social housing, as well as helping people to return to the workplace; Toronto will provide specialized services for people from diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds; and Vancouver's project is aimed at people with addictions and substance abuse problems.

The MHCC is working with many partners on this project, including provincial and municipal levels of government, researchers, many local service providers and individuals who have experienced homelessness and mental illness. "This research initiative is meant to represent a significant step forward in understanding and reducing the incidence of homelessness in Canada," said the Honourable Michael Kirby, Chair of the MHCC.

Participants in the Winnipeg research group will get housing units at a number of different locations across the city, including apartments and shared accommodation. They will be able to stay in the housing for the duration of the project.

In addition, support services for maintaining housing stability, home maintenance, and other routine tasks like shopping and attending appointments will be offered on an ongoing basis as requested by participants. Each Housing First participant will have to pay a portion of their rent, and meet with program staff at least once a week. They will be encouraged to make use of the housing, health and social support services, including education, volunteer and employment opportunities. Non-Housing First project participants will meet with an interviewer regularly.

Key partners in the Winnipeg demonstration project include: the Government of Canada, the provincial government, Mount Carmel Clinic, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre of Winnipeg, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Community Mental Health Program, Housing Plus Agency, Housing Plus Committee, the University of Winnipeg Institute of Urban Studies, the University of Manitoba's Department of Psychiatry, the Department of Community Health Science and Manitoba Centre for Healthy Policy, the Main Street Project, the United Way of Winnipeg, private landlords and the Cooperators Insurance Company. These partners are supported by the Aboriginal Cultural Lens Committee of Winnipeg Project.

"The study will produce evidence on whether providing a place, plus services, will better support reintegration into functional, meaningful living," said Dr. Jayne Barker, Director, At Home/Chez Soi Project. "Another research question is cost. Will it cost less to house and provide services than it would if these marginalized individuals were in hospitals, prisons and shelters?" said Dr. Paula Goering, Research Lead, At Home/Chez Soi Project.

A study by the Canadian Policy Research Networks found the Housing First approach shows promising results compared to traditional 'treatment first' approaches. Housing First participants remain housed longer, spend fewer days in hospital and are no more likely to use drugs and alcohol. According to Corrections Canada, the cost of incarceration in a federal prison averages $90,000 per year, per inmate.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a non-profit organization created to focus national attention on mental health issues and to work to improve the health and social outcomes of people living with mental illness. In February 2008, the federal government allocated $110 million to the MHCC to find ways to help the growing number of people who are homeless and have a mental illness. Updates on the study will be posted on the MHCC website at www.mentalhealthcommission.ca.

SOURCE Mental Health Commission of Canada

For further information: For further information: or to arrange an interview, please contact: Marcia Thomson, Winnipeg Site Coordinator, (O) (204) 945-4895, (C) (204) 781-3190, marcia.thomson2@gov.mb.ca; Nujma Bond, At Home/Chez Soi Communications, MHCC, (O) (403) 385-4033, (C) (403) 826-3942, nbond@mentalhealthcommission.ca; Susan King, Strategic Communications Inc. for MHCC, (O) (613) 744-8282, (C) 613-725-5901, susanking@sympatico.ca


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