The Housing First philosophy is successful in reducing homelessness and provides economic savings for communities to boot, according to a new report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
And local supporters say Red Deer is a shining example.
The philosophy is all about getting people into housing to give them some stability and support before dealing with issues, like mental health disorders, that make them vulnerable to homelessness.
The At Home/Chez Soi final report showed that in the last six months of the two-year study, 62 per cent Housing First participants were housed all of the time, compared to 31 per cent of people in other programs.
During the last six months, 16 per cent of Housing First participants were housed none of the time, compared to 46 per cent in other programs.
Pam Ralston, acting executive director of the local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said Red Deer should be proud.
“We’re already delivering Housing First and to my knowledge we’re the only mid-sized city in Alberta doing that,” Ralston said on Wednesday.
The former Buffalo Hotel was converted into a Housing First project in 2007. Since then, Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, the CMHA, and Central Alberta Women’s Outreach Society have used the same philosophy to house homeless elsewhere in the city.
Ralston said the difference Housing First made in people’s lives was evident early on in Red Deer.
“We’re doing the right thing. We knew it was, but it’s so nice to see a well-run research project that supports what we’ve seen day to day.”
She said At Home/Chez Soi was the first national study with cross-Canada representation. More than 2,000 participants lived in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton.
The study says Housing First is a sound investment.
For example, Housing First services for the 10 per cent of participants with the highest service use costs resulted in average reductions of $42,536 per person per year in the cost of services. For every $10 invested in Housing First, there was an average savings of $21.72.
The main cost reductions for this group were for psychiatric hospital stays, general hospital stays (medical units), home and office visits with community-based providers, jail/prison incarcerations, police contacts, emergency room visits, and stays in crisis housing settings and in single room accommodations with support services. Costs that increased were for hospitalization in psychiatric units in general hospitals and stays in psychiatric rehabilitation residential programs.
Ralston said Buffalo staff found residents have fewer trips to the hospital’s emergency department, which can be the result of small changes like encouragement to eat healthier or staying hydrated, and identifying people who can’t see or hear properly and getting them the help they need.
Other key findings in At Home/Chez Soi included:
l Housing First can be effectively implemented in Canadian cities of different size and different ethno-racial and cultural composition.
l Having a place to live and the right supports can lead to other positive outcomes above and beyond those provided by existing services.