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World Homeless Day

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Housing with supports is key to recovery for many people living with mental health or addictions issues. This is one of the main messages that CMHA Waterloo Wellington is sharing with the community to mark World Homeless Day this October 10.

Evidence indicates that having a place to call home means a better quality of life and success in education and work. And housing with appropriate supports is shown to improve outcomes from even severe mental health and addictions problems.

Written By Steve Jones, Housing Coordinator CMHA WW

When it comes to any discussion to do with housing, whether in the media or around the lunch table, the first thing that comes up is the need for “affordable housing”. Rightfully so that it should be a major topic for discussion and an immediate action item for our various levels of government but it’s not really the issue for those we and others support that one might think.

Affordable housing seems largely to fall in the realm of being unaffordable, ironically enough. It may be affordable for a decent wage earner perhaps, but certainly not for the majority of those people we encounter searching for a place to call home.

That’s where a program such as CMHA Housing, as well as a great many others, become so critical, to try to provide something in the way of a decent place to call home for those who would likely find it quite impossible otherwise. Granted the number of people we are able to accommodate may be relatively few in the grander scheme but each one is a person with a story to tell, a need for some assistance and a right to a place in society.

Which leads into some of the people who have come through CMHA housing and how their stories have unfolded. There have been outcomes that many would see as being failures which some admittedly were, but even some of those can and have turned into pivotal moments leading to recovery in some form or other.

We have been able to turn over several apartments to the tenants themselves, those who have proven themselves to their landlord as a valued tenant. Some number have returned to employment or in some manner been able to take responsibility for their own lease. We may lose the apartment but the person gains from our loss, as they should.

A significant number have followed educational paths, studying social services, general upgrading, legal secretary, addictions certificate and also a few newly entering into and others pursuing their university studies.

People have regained custody of their children, have been able to reunite with families that they have been estranged from, and indeed many have begun entirely new relationships, families and lives.

Not every situation can be measured in the terms above, we also need to give due consideration to the successes of those for whom simply managing on their own and remaining in a stable environment represents a massive achievement in and of itself.

While it is gratifying to feel that we are in the position of being able to help in some lives, it is unavoidable that along with that comes the realization that there are so many more people in need than we have programs to address the demands. High apartment and utilities costs, significant even for us as an agency to acquire, low stock of apartments in the community at any price, a narrow range of types of accommodation available to name but a few issues facing the person needing shelter. There isn’t space enough here to eve begin the conversation of the biases and stigma that exist over and above the property aspects of housing.

The one that strikes me the most is the number of people for which the environment that they require simply does not exist in any real way. Supportive and staffed homes are critical and unattainable needs for so many, as all of us in the business are all too aware.

So while we acknowledge our own program successes and especially those of the tenants we have the privilege of housing, we cannot lose sight of the fact society still has a great deal of work to do in providing safe housing, and the responsibility to see it through.

Forget the “affordable” and provide the attainable!

The thing to take forward however is the knowledge that people, despite the barriers, can, and do succeed.

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