At Home/Chez Soi report proves success of housing first

At Home/Chez Soi — a successful federally-funded pilot project aimed at curbing homelessness — was discontinued in Quebec after the provincial government failed to pick up the tab once the project ended.

Housing first approach helped homeless people in Montreal reconnect with family and get off drinking and drugs

The At Home/Chez Soi program provided housing to more than 1,000 homeless people with mental health issues across Canada. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

At Home/Chez Soi — a four-year pilot project launched in five cities in 2009 to fight rising rates of homelessness — has been far more successful than previous programs in providing stable housing to homeless people with mental health issues, says a report released Thursday in Montreal.

This news has members of Montreal's At Home/Chez Soi program confused as to why the Quebec government isn’t following other provinces and providing provincial funding so the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s program can continue.

"It's the most effective approach that we know to help homeless people regain a decent life,” said Eric Latimer, the lead researcher on the Montreal project.

The results are clear: the housing first model works.- Mental Health Commission of Canada report

At Home/Chez Soi ran in Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Moncton with $110 million in federal money. The program helped find and subsidize homes for mentally ill homeless people in five cities across Canada. ​​

Inadequate housing for mentally ill

The project was based on national findings that 520,700 people living with mental illness are inadequately housed, including up to 119,800 who are homeless.

In Montreal, 469 homeless people with mental health issues were recruited to participate in the program. Some were given apartments and others put in a treatment-as-usual cohort.

The program successfully housed 276 people over a 20-month time period, and the government spent an average of $22,482 per high-need participant and an average $14,029 for those with more moderate needs.

Latimer said that some participants had since gone back to living on the streets. However, Quebec's health and social services ministry provided 130 permanent rent supplements to keep those who continued to be housed under the pilot project to keep their apartments, he continued.

“Compared to usual services, it actually didn’t cost that much more because when you enable people to be stably housed and give them services, you actually are able to reduce use of a lot of other resources, like hospitalization, ER visits, shelters and ambulance transports,” Latimer told CBC Daybreak on Friday.

Mobile users: listen to Daybreak interview here

'A dream come true'

“Richard,” a 52-year-old participant in Montreal’s At Home/Chez Soi program, said the program allowed him to pay off debts, quit drinking and reconnect with his family after more than 30 years on the streets.

“I started to take my own responsibilities. Since then it's good. It's going good,” he said. “When I find the apartment I said ‘Wow, this is my place, y'know?’  A dream's come true."

He said that while the original participants are still being funded, the fact that the Quebec government hasn’t picked up funding to expand the program is “ridiculous.”

"I don't know what's wrong with governments to not support this program, because this program works. It worked for me," Richard said.

He hopes Quebec's new Liberal government finds the money to help keep the program going. 

Latimer said extending the program in Quebec to continue housing homeless people is "perfectly doable," but said that it would be important to follow the housing first recipe to a tee. 

"One of the important results from this study across Canada is that the teams that were best able to function according to the prescribed model were the ones that achieved the best outcomes for their clients," Latimer said.

Meanwhile, the federal government is continuing its housing-first approach under the Homelessness Partnering Strategy.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s key conclusions:

  • Housing first is feasible in Montreal.

  • The At Home/Chez Soi team recruited 73 owners of rental properties located in several Montreal neighbourhoods and successfully housed 276 people in the space of 20 months.

  • Housing first is effective.

    • During the last six months of the study, 60 per cent of participants classified as having high needs were in stable housing, compared to the 31 per cent of high-need participants who continued to receive usual services. The differences were more pronounced among participants with moderate needs; 72 per cent were housed all the time during that period, compared to 29 per cent of participants receiving usual services.

    • Participants improved their quality of life on many levels: they claim to have better mental health, to have experienced less stress, to have restored relationships with members of their families, and also to have reduced their use of drugs and alcohol.

  • Housing first resulted in lower costs associated with other services.

  • For every $10.00 invested in the Housing first model, $8.27 was saved in money spent on other services such as hospitalization, shelters, police services, and the judicial system for high-need participants and $7.19 was saved for moderate-need participants.