Housing First helps homeless people with mental illness, addiction, Canadian studies confirm

By Marina Wang

Studies published over the past year have found the Housing First strategy to be effective across age groups, as well as for persons with substance use disorders and mental illness.

The Housing First strategy, first developed in the 1990s in New York City, is aimed toward mitigating homelessness by first moving those in need to stable housing, followed up by providing necessary supports and services. The strategy is based on the principle that people are generally more likely to be successful when they are lifted from the burden of homelessness.

“The results are startling: you can take the most hard core, chronically homeless person with complex mental health and addictions issues, and put them in housing with supports, and you know what? They stay housed,” reads the research website Homeless Hub. According to the site, over 80% of participants in Housing First programs remained housed after the first year, and programs have been rolled out across Canada.

“It’s actually the experience of being homeless that may exacerbate the mental health and addictions issues,” said Stephen Gaetz, director of Homeless Hub, in an online video.

The effectiveness of the Housing First strategy for people with substance abuse disorder (SUD) had previously been under question on the grounds that it may enable continued abuse. However, a previous study has shown that those with SUD were just as successful after entering the program as those without the disorder[1]https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.201000229?code=ps-site.

A newer study published in Society for the Study of Addiction last August, corroborates that finding. The study by researchers from compared the results of 2154 Canadians from Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg with and without substance abuse disorders after two years of being in the Housing First program[2]http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.13928/full.

Another study published in February 2017 compared the success of Housing First for participants ages 18-49 and those over 50 over a two year period[3]http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/gps.4682/full. Housing stability, measured by the percentage of days stably housed, improved significantly for both age groups. In addition, the older age group had higher mental health and quality of life outcomes, which was noted as being the most relevant outcome for homelessness intervention. The study also suggested that an age-generic Housing First approach can be applied to older participants.

[Photo Credit: Thomas Quine/Vancouver]

References   [ + ]

1. https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.201000229?code=ps-site
2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.13928/full
3. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/gps.4682/full

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