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Housing first

Determining the economic benefits of stable housing

By Amy Jones

Yaffle.ca is Memorial’s online connecting tool.

One of its most significant jobs is to provide a way for people from outside Memorial to ask for research help. With hundreds of community-suggested opportunities to choose from, your next project is just a click away. Here’s one:

The opportunity

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), each year some 200,000 people are homeless in Canada at an estimated cost of $7 billion. Individuals experiencing homelessness tend to be heavy users of public systems, including healthcare, corrections and emergency shelters.

The At Home/Chez Soi study conducted by the MHCC, which was released in 2014, examined the Housing First approach as a means of ending homelessness for people living with mental illness in Canada. Housing First recognizes that housing is a basic human right. Rather than requiring individuals experiencing homelessness to first resolve the challenges that contribute to their housing instability, such as mental illness or addiction, Housing First is based on the belief that recovery begins with stable housing.

The At Home/Chez Soi study found that Housing First investments resulted in significant cost savings – for every $10 invested, $9.60 was saved for high needs participants and $3.42 was saved for moderate needs participants, compared to the group that received treatment as usual.

Members of the End Homelessness St. John's team.
Members of the End Homelessness St. John’s team (L-R): Judy Tobin, Laura Winters, Jennifer Tipple, and Bruce Pearce.
Photo: Submitted

End Homelessness St. John’s (EHSJ), the multi-stakeholder committee formed to prevent and end homelessness in St. John’s, seeks to learn more about the local costs of homelessness in St. John’s and throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the financial impacts of addressing homelessness through a Housing First approach compared to the status quo. This information would be used to inform decision-making on how to address homelessness in St. John’s and throughout the province, and how to effectively invest funding toward the goals of preventing and ending homelessness.

The project

EHSJ currently leads an intensive case management program called Front Step, targeted to people experiencing homelessness who are highly vulnerable due to risk factors such as physical and mental health and addictions. People typically stay in the program for 12 to 18 months.

“Participants have told us about how [Front Step] is changing their lives by helping them gain stability and make progress on their goals, however, we do not know how that translates into systems usage.” – Jennifer Tipple

“Participants have told us about how the program is changing their lives by helping them gain stability and make progress on their goals, however, we do not know how that translates into systems usage,” said Jennifer Tipple, performance management planner with EHSJ. “For example, are participants having less hospitalizations, emergency room visits, arrests, food bank usage and so on?”

Two new EHSJ programs will also begin accepting participants in 2017. Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing is a shorter program for people who have experienced homelessness, or are at risk of experiencing homelessness, but may not be able to navigate getting stable housing on their own. The Permanent Supportive Housing program is a long-term program for people who require housing on a continual basis.

EHSJ is seeking researchers at Memorial who can help to quantify the current costs of system use by people who are experiencing homelessness, including hidden homelessness, as well as those at risk of homelessness. EHSJ would like to use this baseline data to examine how programming might be impacting the cost of providing these services. “We would love to have data to show how our programs are impacting public systems such as healthcare and corrections,” said Ms. Tipple.

“Our programs provide housing and wraparound supports to people who need them, which of course provides housing stability and other societal benefits. However, do our programs also have economic benefits? We would like to be able to demonstrate if our programs provide cost savings, as well as when and how those savings arise.”

Find out more about this project here. Interested in learning more about this project? The Harris Centre’s co-ordinator of knowledge mobilization can also tell you more. Email Amy Jones or call her at 709-864-6115.

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