Shortage of housing stock creates 2 year wait list for supportive housing

People with an addiction or mental health issue, who need housing could end up waiting years for a spot. That's according to numbers from Canadian Mental Health Association for Waterloo Wellington.

People can wait 804 days for addictions supportive housing and 1,211 for mental health supportive housing

Long wait lists for mental health and addictions supportive housing means people could be waiting years before they get a unit. (Shutterstock / meunierd)

People trying to access mental health and addictions supportive housing in Waterloo-Wellington can be on the wait list for years to get a unit, according to data from the Canadian Mental Health Association for Waterloo-Wellington.

On average, people trying to access addictions supportive housing can wait up to 804 days to get a unit, while the wait list for mental health supportive housing is even longer. An average of 1,211 days, according to CMHA. 

Roughly 474 people were on the wait list for addictions supportive housing and 939 people on the wait list for mental health supportive housing as of Jan. 13, 2020.

The numbers from CMHA Waterloo-Wellington describe wait lists and wait times for services coordinated through the mental health helpline Here24/7.

Those numbers come as no surprise to Christine Stevanus, who currently oversees the community addictions services at House of Friendship (HOF).

"We're serving people who struggle with both mental health and addictions concurrently and the wait list is very long," Stevanus said.

"When someone is on our wait list, it's not just for housing, it's also the support that comes with that."

That's part of the reason why wait times for supportive housing can be so long, Alison DeMuy, director of strategy and community engagement with CMHA Waterloo-Wellington, explained. 

Supportive housing is subsidised and it's often tied to a level of addictions or mental health support. In most cases, both levels of support are needed, she said.

Not enough supportive housing

A big contributing factor to long wait times is the lack of supportive housing units available to people. 

"If we had more funding we could certainly hire more social workers and folks to be able to provide the support. What we don't have is the housing stock," DeMuy said.

That's a common issue Dawn Mewhinney also sees in her line of work at Stonehenge Therapeutic Community (STC) in Guelph. The organization provides a wide range of addictions and mental heath supports, which also includes supportive housing. 

Mewhinney said STC has a total of eight transitional housing units and 74 long-term housing units. STC recently started working with landlords and real-estate agents to obtain more supportive housing units.

But stigma often "plays a huge role" in deterring landlords from renting out their units.

"There's so much stigma around mental health and addiction that I think landlords don't know what it means to house someone in supportive housing," she said.

"They don't realize the supports that come with the person to make that a positive experience."

More units needed

DeMuy said supportive housing is a "much bigger issue than one agency can solve."

She says more funding and more units are needed. Mewhinney echoed the same response. 

"We're not going to solve this without units," she said.

"We really need people to come up and say, 'I have the capacity to do that if you have the capacity to do the supports', which we do." 

Host Craig Norris chats with Dawn Mewhinney of Stonehenge Therapeutic Community in Guelph about long wait times for supportive housing in our region. 7:25