News Release 

Study shows Housing First program significantly reduces homelessness over long term

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

TORONTO, October 7, 2019 - The longest running study of its kind on the "Housing First" model has found that it significantly reduces homelessness over the long term compared to treatment as usual, according to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry by scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and St. Michael's Hospital.

"The Housing First model results in a lasting and significant increase in the rate of days stably housed per year," said lead author CAMH Physician-in-Chief Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos. "We now have evidence that we can offer to policy makers, clinicians and other stakeholders about solutions to chronic homelessness for people with mental illness."

Housing First provides immediate access to rent supplements and mental health support services to people who are homeless and have a mental illness. Traditional models require homeless people to stop using substances or receive psychiatric treatment before being eligible for housing support services.

The program began as a research demonstration project in 2008 with $110-million in funding from the Mental Health Commission of Canada to implement the model in five Canadian cities, making it the largest research study in the world targeting homelessness and mental health. A review of the first two years of the program, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal Psychiatric Services, found a significant increase in stable housing days in the short term.

This study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, which followed participants over a six-year period, is the first to show that Housing First continues to be significantly more effective than treatment as usual in the longer term, especially for those with high needs for mental health support services. After 6 years, that group had stable housing an average of 85% of the time in the previous year compared to 60% for the treatment as usual group.

"These results show that if we choose to do so, we can end chronic homelessness in a way that is life-changing for individuals and enormously beneficial for all of society," said Dr. Stephen Hwang, Director of the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael's Hospital, where the study was conducted.

While a cost-benefit analysis has not been completed for the six-year study, the preliminary results after the first two years indicated that every 10 dollars invested in Housing First for the high needs group resulted in average savings of $9.60 because participants spent less time in shelters and hospitals.

"This model can help break the cycle of homeless people with mental illness going from hospitals to shelters to jail and back," said Dr. Stergiopoulos. "It treats housing as a human right, restoring people's dignity, and building hope for the future."

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Dr. Stergiopoulos adds that the Housing First model is now being widely implemented in the United States, and parts of Australia and Europe.

CAMH is involved several programs and community partnerships to assist people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness including the Shared Care Clinical Outreach Program and a specialized transitional housing service in partnership with LOFT Community Services for seniors with mental illness.

For further information, or to arrange an interview, please contact Sean O'Malley, Media Relations, CAMH, 416-595-6015 or media@camh.ca

ABOUT THE CENTRE FOR ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit camh.ca or follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.

ABOUT ST. MICHAEL'S HOSPITAL

St. Michael's Hospital is committed to excellence in care for those experiencing disadvantage. The hospital's MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions is an inter-disciplinary research centre whose mission is to create a healthier future for all. The Centre is an international leader in research on homelessness, housing and health.

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