Homelessness won't be solved without more rent supplements
Housing-first approach proven to work in Moncton, but researcher says policy changes needed
A pilot project aimed at helping homeless people who also suffer from mental illness has concluded that government rent supplements are critical for people struggling to find affordable housing in New Brunswick.
Tim Aubry, an investigator with the Mental Health Commission of Canada research project, told Information Morning Moncton that the housing-first approach can work in New Brunswick but not without combining housing and health under one government department.
"This was a demonstration project and the idea was to test the effectiveness of this new, promising approach called housing-first," Aubry said.
Housing-first means people receive an apartment regardless of any addiction or mental health problems and then have access to doctors, counsellors and psychological supports if they wish.
"People got housed rapidly and these were people who had struggled with housing for a number of years," said Aubry. "They had severe and persistent mental health problems, often combined with addictions, but they got into housing, they got supported ... and at least 80 per cent stayed in their housing."
The $110 million At Home/Chez Soi project, which lasted four-years, was conducted in cities across Canada, including Moncton.
In Moncton and the surrounding area, 125 people took part in the program, which formally ended in March 2014 but continued in part under New Brunswick's Department of Health and the Department of Social Development.
Aubry said the original Moncton program was particularly effective, with participants reporting an improvement in their quality of life.
"That shouldn't be surprising," he said, in part because the participants were given rent supplements to keep housing costs below 30 per cent of their income, and choice in where they wanted to live.
"In Moncton, people were thinking about their future — they showed what we call, 'better recovery,' from their difficulties and disabilities than the people who were receiving the usual services, and they just became more integrated into the community."
Housing-first approach lost
A report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada released this week said that while the program in Moncton continued when the research program ended, the central principle of housing-first was lost.
"The Department of Health funded the support services and the Department of Social Development funded the housing, but the separation of housing and support into different organizations complicated delivery of the program," according the report.
One of the key ingredients, the critical ingredients, to housing-first is the rent supplement.- Tim Aubry
Aubry said marrying two departments with very different responsibilities was a huge challenge, and the program couldn't keep up with the needs of participants.
"As the program grew and expanded there were no new rent supplements available for people," he said. "So if somebody was struggling with homelessness and was going to receive support from this new team, they wouldn't have that tool to help them get into housing quickly."
Instead, Aubry said, if they needed new housing they would be put on the standard social housing waiting list.
Aubry is hopeful the federal government will provide support in the future to allow for the return of a housing-first program in New Brunswick, which he said must include new rent supplements.
"The good news is this approach was taken up by the federal government when they renewed their homelessness partnering strategy and it's now favoured and there are new programs sprouting up in the Maritimes," he said.
"When we talk about funding it's also committing some funding to rent supplements. One of the key ingredients, the critical ingredients, to housing-first is the rent supplement."
Need for programs
Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the member of Parliament for Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe, said the federal government understands the need for housing programs and mental health programs.
She hopes that some money put aside for social infrastructure and health can be used to address these issues in the future.
"I know for the area of Moncton we have a huge waiting list when it comes to NB Housing and people who are on lists for different types of services," she said. "We truly have to do a better job at making sure that those needs are being met."
She added that the At Home/Chez Soi program was a success but did not say whether the federal government wants to partner with the program in the future.
"I truly believe that the government will be very interested at working with all levels of government to ensure that we can bring this issue forward and make sure that we can provide the appropriate resources needed," she said.
Study finds lives improve
Aubry said while providing rent supplements doesn't solve everything for people living in poverty and struggling with mental illness, addiction and homelessness, the study proved it improves their lives immensely.
"They had gotten a foothold into the community, so we were pleased to see that ... they don't have to move in to a rooming house, they can actually get a place — a bachelor or a one-bedroom."
CBC also contacted the Department of Social Development but did not receive a response.
With files from Information Morning Moncton