The University of Western Ontario, where I work, has a good journalism program. Students who choose to do pieces on poverty, housing, and homelessness are often sent my way. This was the latest that I had the chance of participating in:
The money mentioned in the video for new housing has a target of 1000 new units over the next 5 years. The current waiting list is 4500 families. You do the math.
I had the opportunity last week to participate in a focus group hosted by the SouthWest LHIN (Local Health Integration Network) regarding the third phase of mental health integration and the role that social housing can play. In a nutshell, the second phase of mental health integration focused on moving acute care beds out of regional centres (like London) and back into smaller communities (like Owen Sound) so that people who experience a mental health challenge can recover in their home community. The third phase is called “Community Capacity Building”, and is focused on providing better care to people living with mental health challenges outside of acute care settings. This has long been a challenge, and since the mover of mental health from hospitals to communities starting in the 1960’s, we have all been saying that there is inadequate community support.
Present at the meeting were many of the big names from social housing from the major areas covered by the SouthWest LHIN. It was clear from everyone present that all social housing providers are experiencing being overwhelmed by the mental health needs of their tenants, and being under-resourced to meet these needs. Currently, CMHA provides some community-based care, but is also under-resourced and only works with those with an official diagnosis. Some providers also have Community Resource Workers (CRWs), but these care caseloads of approximately 500 tenants, and are not certified addictions or mental health workers.
There dream that I laid out at the meeting was a two-pronged system to provide mental health/addictions support in community contexts using social housing as the platform for delivery. The two prongs are intensive case management, and on-site supports. Intake into intensive case management would be initiated at emergency housing, such as shelters, transitional housing, treatment programs, and halfway homes, and would follow the individual into the community regardless of where they went. On-site supports would involve mental health/addictions workers available to all social housing developments, providing drop-in services to all people, regardless of a diagnosis or involvement in intensive case management.
It’s still just a dream, but I do believe that starting with social housing is a great way to go, as currently the mental health needs of individuals living in these contexts are not being met, and are leading to a big burden on the system.
A colleague of mine, Dr. Susan Ray, started her research career investigating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst peace-keepers. She was approached to do some work looking at Canadian veterans and homelessness, and thought her expertise in PTSD would be of use. This was a reasonable expectation, as much of the work on veterans and homelessness in the U.S. has looked at PTSD, trauma while serving overseas, and family breakdown upon return.
However, Dr. Ray has been surprised by her preliminary findings. The majority of Canadian veterans who have become homeless have not served overseas, or if they have, not in a conflict zone. Few have been treated for or are diagnosable as experiencing PTSD. Instead, this is the story that Dr. Ray has been hearing most often:
Individuals enlist in the army in their early 20’s.
After enlisting they are deployed to a base, in Canada or overseas.
On the base they encounter a culture of alcoholism, where heavy drinking is the norm, and even encouraged.
Upon discharge, the drinking becomes problematic, leads to family breakdown, homelessness, and some move on to other substances.
So, interestingly, she is finding that veteran homelessness in Canada is much more about the culture of the military than the traumatic experiences of war. I look forward to hearing more about where she goes from here.