A federal pilot project that is trying to help homeless people with mental health issues is being credited for giving its participants a new future.

The At Home/Chez Soi initiative, which is operated by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, has set up 100 participants in apartments and has given them access to health support and counselling.

At the age of 58, Steve Colpitts arrived home in New Brunswick after about a dozen years in Alberta, depressed and homeless.

Colpitts was one of the first participants in an apartment in downtown Moncton.

After joining the program, Colpitts said he is now planning his future.

"I feel almost human again," Colpitts said.

"I can get up and I say I'm home you know and it feels good. When I come in at night I say, 'Wow, I'm alone but I'm not alone.'"

Colpitts said having a roof over his head and constant support has changed his life completely.

He said he's now eager to start finding ways to give back to the community.

"There's a course I want to take [to become a] drug and alcohol abuse counsellor because I want to help people," he said.

"I've been helped with no strings attached whatsoever and I want to give some of that back."

Studying the costs

Jimmy Bourque, who is leading a research team at the University of Moncton that's following participants like Colpitts, said he expects the study will show they do better with a home and support.

The program is funded for two more years.

But Bourque said the question is what the program will cost taxpayers.

"People think often that if you do nothing then it costs nothing," Bourque said.

"That's not true because people who are homeless with untreated mental health conditions will end up in emergency rooms, some of them will end up being involved in the judicial system, they'll be incarcerated and that costs a whole lot of money."

The goal of the national study is to gather evidence about what services can best help people who are living with a mental illness and are also homeless.

The study will compare the so-called housing-first model of intervention to the usual services offered in the five test cities, which also include Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.