Housing, What Are The Options?

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

(Article updated in June 2017)

Housing options for individuals with mental illness are a major frustration for both those struggling with mental health concerns and family members alike. An analysis by the Mental Health Commission of Canada revealed that the health risks associated with homelessness can decrease an individual’s life expectancy by 20 years and as many as 520,700 people living with mental illness are inadequately housed in Canada. When receiving feedback from those navigating the system concerns generally centre on housing options not being widely publicized or available. Why is this? In Canada, we have adopted a “housing first” model to provide better support but it seems as though this perspective (as opposed to a recovery first model) has created an increased pressure on our housing options. The supply has not quite caught up with the demand. And will it ever? With some programs experiencing waitlists that can fill their entire tenant rosters it makes me wonder how we can focus on recovery when the prospect of finding supported housing is so adverse.

Generally, the search for subsidized housing starts with sourcing out an income if one is not currently available. When an individual has no other sources of income, Income Assistance, Disability or PPMB are needed as many housing support programs do not pay the individual’s rent in full. If you or your loved one does not have an income source it is advantageous to look into this with their care team, GP or using resources listed here.

Next, a conversation between the individual, the housing provider, and the care team (including the family!) is indicated around what level of support is required in order for the individual to live in a safe and secure way. Commonly, when applying to a housing program an application or intake session occurs with a mental health professional or service provider to consider what support would best serve.

Housing supports are roughly categorized into the following:

Licensed Community Homes and Group Homes: The homes are staffed 24 hours a day. Residents receive daily administration of medications and meals are provided. Daily Life skills are developed and the hope is to move onto more independent housing.

Transitional Housing: Temporary (up to three years), typically for people with challenges around homelessness.  The idea is to bridge to permanent housing by offering structure, supervision, support, life skills, and sometimes education and training. It is meant to provide a safe, supportive environment where residents can begin to address the issues that led to difficulty around housing, and begin to rebuild their support network.

Enhanced Supported Apartments: The apartments are self-contained, subsidized suites in a designated apartment building. A mental health worker is on site 24 hours. Medications are administered by staff and there is usually one communal meal a day.

Supported Apartment Blocks: The apartments are self-contained, subsidized suites in a designated apartment building. A mental health worker is available on-site to tenants during posted office hours to provide support.

Supported Independent Living (SIL) Housing Program: Individuals live independently in a subsidized market rental apartment. A community mental health outreach worker provides support on a regular basis.

Super SIL: Similar to the SIL Program but with a greater level of outreach support.

Independent Living: Self contained apartments with no practical support provided.  However, individuals can receive support from their local mental health team or psychiatrist. Usually, individuals live in a private housing market provided place or with a housing organization and receive a subsidy to make housing more affordable.

What about the different organizations who provide support? The following is a list of organizations currently providing housing with mental health supports in the lower mainland. It is not exhaustive; there are also many smaller organizations (for example some churches) that provide housing.  Click on the links below to see how each of these organization describe their approach to the housing types we just discussed.

MPA Society http://www.mpa-society.org/programs-services/housing/supported-housing

Coast Mental Health http://www.coastmentalhealth.com/housing

The Bloom Group http://www.thebloomgroup.org/our-work/affordable-housing/

RainCity Housing http://www.raincityhousing.org/

The Kettle Society http://www.thekettle.ca/?page_id=30

Portland Housing Society http://411.ca/business/profile/12297019

Katherine Sanford Housing Society http://sanfordhs.ca/

BC Housing http://www.bchousing.org/Find

Canadian Mental Health Association (Various Branches) http://www.cmha.bc.ca/

Mental Health Teams (Various Branches) http://www.vch.ca/403/7676/?program_id=10661

First United Church http://firstunited.ca/what-we-do-type/housing/

More can be found here or here (search for “housing”) and at the Homeless Hub.

Even if the road to affordable and secure housing feels long I still advocate for my clients to get on a waitlist as soon as possible. Why? If we as service providers cannot demonstrate a need (such as a long waitlist) there will be no way for us to communicate to housing commissions just how greatly these services are required. Also, if an individual faces hardship usually priority is given on the waitlist and can mean that homelessness is eluded.

Best of luck to everyone in your housing pursuits!


(This is a guest article by Vanessa Stinn, former Housing Manager at the Pathways Clubhouse, CMHA Richmond Branch and currently Housing & Health Coordinator at a housing non-profit; supplemented by Isabella Mori in June of 2017)

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