Ottawa program houses homeless addicts

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre wants to help the homeless beat drug addiction by giving them stable homes of their own.

Homes of their own can help homeless beat drug addiction, program organizer says

Chris, 58, is one of the early success stories for the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre's Intensive Case Management program. (CBC)

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre wants to help the homeless beat drug addiction by giving them stable homes of their own.

CBC News at 5

Watch the CBC's Judy Trinh profile Chris and how the housing program has helped him beat his addiction.

The $550,000 Intensive Case Management program is funded by the province and it takes a "housing first" mentality, seeking to move chronically homeless people off the streets.

There is enough money to house 96 people and so far, 66 spots have been filled.

Chris, 58, moved into an apartment near Dow's Lake in November thanks to the Sandy Hill program. CBC News agreed not to use his last name.

Spent most of his life on street, in jail

Chris had been either homeless or in jail for almost 40 years until he was housed.

"It's better than sliced bread," he told CBC News. "It gives new purpose and meaning."

On top of his social assistance cheques, the program gives Chris an extra $450 per month for rent. He also has a new bed, microwave and air conditioner.

He admitted he still uses drugs, but has stayed away from hard drugs.

Chris says he is learning to fight his addiction to hard drugs as he continues to use other drugs as part of his treatment strategy. (CBC)

"I'm not an angel, but it gives me purpose and meaning," he said. "It gives me a home."

Chris said he has also been able to keep a part-time job and volunteers at a needle exchange program. His self-esteem and belief are also important facets for those homeless people looking for a home and to improve their lifestyle.

"By giving them housing and helping them maintain it, you're giving them pride in themselves, you're giving them a reason not to use drugs, you're giving them hope in the future," said Jean-François Martinbault, who runs the housing program.

Life expectancy 20 years shorter

The Canadian Mental Health Association also helps oversee the program, which focuses on those who are most in need of intensive care.

The real scare, the organization said, is that these people have a life expectancy 20 years shorter than the average population.

"These are people with severe mental illness often untreated, " said Tim Simboli, an executive director at the CMHA.

"These are folks that are trying to support drug habits, making bad judgments because of their mental health problems, they have terrible health," he added.