A "perfect storm" is on the horizon today for Winnipeg organizations involved in providing homes for the homeless.
The Free Press has learned the federal government will be providing some $28 million under the Homelessness Partnership Strategy for local Housing First initiatives at a press conference that will be attended by Minister of State and Social Development Candice Bergen.
At the same conference, to be held at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House on Main Street, provincial Minister of Housing and Community Development Peter Bjornson will announce a funding commitment for Winnipeg’s At Home/Chez Soi that, for the last five years, has established a Housing First project serving more than 300 clients.
Further, findings from a study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, obtained by the Free Press, will be unveiled today, detailing the "clear effectiveness" of the Housing First approach among those with mental illness, particularly in the city’s aboriginal community, which represents 10 per cent of Winnipeg’s population.
The combined funding, expected to be spread out over five years, will exceed $30 million.
"It’s a perfect storm for homeless (initiatives)," one source said.
The study includes two key findings:
- Forty-five per cent of Housing First participants remain housed all of the time, 28 per cent some of the time and 27 per cent not at all. By contrast, 29 per cent of treatment-as-usual (TAU) patients remain housed all of the time, 18 per cent some of the time and 52 per cent not at all.
- Every $10 invested in Housing First services resulted in an average saving of $9.30 for high-need (mental health/addiction issues) and $3.85 for moderate-need participants.
"One of the prerequisites for wanting to invest in something is believing it can actually make a difference," said Catharine Hume, national director of the At Home/Chez Soi program and director of housing and homelessness for the MHCC. "There’s a belief… that some people are hopeless and not worthy of investment; their lot won’t change. One of the really important things the At Home project has been able to demonstrate is that actually isn’t true."
At Home was initiated in 2009 with $110 million in federal funding, establishing programs in five Canadian cities, which eventually housed 2,000 individuals with mental illness who had experienced homelessness. In Winnipeg, the project includes housing just over 300 participants and placing another 200 in a control group.
The program officially expired in March 2013 but has continued operating in Winnipeg with a combination of provincial and federal transitional funding.
A provincial government spokesman confirmed Thursday Bjornson will be announcing a further commitment to the At Home/Chez Soi program today.
"We’ll be having money, too," the source said. "We’re interested in going forward with this. We’ll be announcing our continued commitment. The results have been positive."
Hume said Housing First programs — not just At Home /Chez Soi, but others such as the Bell Hotel (a harm reduction facility) and Siloam Mission’s Madison House complex — have not only challenged the assumptions of what is possible, but also underscored how many established concepts have not stemmed the growing population — and rising costs that result — of homelessness in Canada.
"If people are revolving in and out of emergencies and shelters and the criminal justice system — there’s a cost associated with that and it’s a significant cost," Hume noted. "By investing differently, you’re getting profoundly better outcomes. You’re getting much higher housing stability and quality of life."
Dr. Jino Distasio, director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg and lead researcher on the MHCC study, believes the evolutionary change in addressing homelessness — providing homes for the hardest cases — has gone from project to the standard model of the 21st century.
"The evidence is there," Distasio said. "I think we’re at the point where we’ve just got to move forward. Housing First doesn’t end homelessness for everybody. I don’t think there’s any intervention that is 100 per cent successful. But Housing First is a real important component in Winnipeg’s long-term strategy to end homelessness."
For example, Distasio points to the original federal investment for At Home/Chez Soi — which included about $20 million in Winnipeg as a landmark initiative.
"A huge amount of capacity was garnered here," he said. "Winnipeg is much further ahead because of the At Home/Chez Soi program than it would have been otherwise."
"What we need is a real long-term clear announcement that says, ‘This is what Manitoba is going to do over the next decade. The next five years. The next three years.’ We need some more clarity. For now, let’s really focus on 300 people who are really in high need. Let’s provide them the right supports," Distasio said.
There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 homeless in Winnipeg. In April, a United Way task force to end homelessness in Winnipeg in 10 years released a report recommending an overhaul to system delivery toward a Housing First model involving an umbrella group of existing social-service agencies. The plan also recommended a one-stop intake service that would provide a central registry for homeless, access to outreach workers and a rent bank.
In May, Siloam Mission announced plans to construct a $30.5-million, 160-unit apartment complex for the homeless adjacent to their shelter on Princess Street which is slated to open in 2016.