At Home project results show “housing first” can help confront crisis of mental health, addiction, homelessness

The new task force to tackle the crisis in mental health and addiction, announced yesterday by Gregor Robertson at his round table session at the Wosk Centre, will have huge obstacles to overcome, but solid scientific data on what works and what doesn’t.

Backing up the data was the personal testimony of Colin Ross, a resident at the Bosman Hotel, where the At Home/Chez Soi pilot program has been testing the impact of providing housing to people confronting the challenges of mental illness, addiction and homelessness.

Ross told the forum of the dramatic progress he has made reorganizing his life since his housing situation stabilized. For the first time in many years, he is beginning to look for work. Housing is not a silver bullet, but it is part of the solution.

Apart from the human and ethical reasons to tackle this problem, there are financial advantages. A day in the emergency room, where many of these people wind up, costs $1,000. A jail cell may cost $163 a day. A day of housing can be provided for about $57.

Then there are the savings in the health care system, the public safety system and in the lives of people who are ready to make a great contribution if they are given the chance.

There was an air of hope at the round table, but also a sense of renewed purpose, a feeling that all the stakeholders involved — the city, Vancouver Coastal Health, service providers, the VPD, academics, c0mmunity organizations and many more — believe the time for action is now.