It’s ‘Housing First,’ addiction issues after, says Fourcast

By Roderick Benns

It’s ‘Housing First,’ addiction issues after, says Fourcast

Twenty-four chronically homeless people in our area now have a home, thanks to the City of Kawartha Lakes and and Kawartha Lakes Housing Corporation. But since many of them are struggling with addictions, hundreds of readers recently questioned on social media whether they were deserving of accommodation.

The story, ‘New housing complex should be for rehab, not ‘condoning drugs’: Woman’s petition,’ was read by thousands with the majority of readers on social media holding the opinion that these 24 people should be ‘clean’ first before being given the keys to a brand new one bedroom apartment.

The new building at 68 Lindsay Street North is part Human Services Offices on one side (employees will begin working there in mid-September) and the other half are the 24 units for the chronically homeless on the other side. Fourcast, a community based treatment centre, have staff on site to be there for the residents if they choose to reach out for help. But it is not mandatory. 

The ‘Housing First’ approach has been adopted across much of Canada and the United States as a way to end homelessness – including its devastating costs. On the Canadian Housing First site, the goal is clear: “The goal of Housing First is to end chronic homelessness by providing immediate housing and then working with participants to promote recovery and wellbeing.”

It’s an approach that makes sense, according to Fourcast’s Executive Director Donna Rogers, who says it is “virtually impossible” to change one’s addiction behaviours without first having the stability of housing. It’s also backed up by mounds of international data.

Expecting a person to be clean first, says Rogers, “assumes that change is linear and that a person attends residential treatment and returns to safe-affordable housing and that is the answer for permanent recovery from substance use.”

That’s just not the case, she says.

“Housing First (philosophy) believes that access to safe-affordable housing is a right for all people. If persons with substance use concerns want to make change they need to have access to housing without having to ‘earn it.’” she says.

Rogers says most people make changes to their substance use challenges without ever attending residential treatment.

“There is a need for more access to residential treatment but that’s a separate issue from homelessness. Treatment involves insight oriented therapy and lifestyle behavioural changes that are virtually impossible to engage in if there is a current experience of homelessness.”

The program at 68 Lindsay Street involves supports for people to maintain housing as well as connect them to community supports that will help them in other important ways, such as physicians, psychiatrists, income support, addiction and mental health supports (including residential treatment if they choose).

“The new building has chosen to house those who have the most complex homelessness history,” says Rogers, “so the supports that are in place are intensive to meet those needs.”

“In other housing models with a first come, first serve approach this group of people would never be successful in acquiring housing.”

In the research paper A New Direction: A Framework for Homeless Prevention, Stephen Gaetz and Erin Dej point out that “mass homelessness emerged in the mid-1980s,” and since then society has “largely used emergency services to respond to people’s immediate needs.”

(The mid 1980’s was the ascension of neoliberal policies in which an extreme form of capitalism emerged — and still remains. Corporations became more concerned with shareholder returns and CEO remuneration and less concerned with creating a stable employment environment, good paying jobs, and community development. This created an erosion of income security and of purchasing power for average Canadians.)

“While we will always need emergency services to help those in crisis, over time these short-term responses have become the standard method for managing homelessness long-term,” they write.

In the last decade, Canadian policies and practices have begun to shift from managing homelessness to finding solutions, they point out, in particular with the expansion of the Housing First approach across the country.

“The Housing First model provides housing and supports for people experiencing chronic homelessness with no housing readiness requirements. New research, innovation, and best practices have propelled our thinking to make the goal of ending homelessness realistic; however, we are still missing an important piece – preventing homelessness in the first place.”

The cost of one night of homelessness at A Place Called Home — the homeless shelter for Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton — is $62.62 a night, according to Dave Tilley, manager of fund development and operations at A Place Called Home in Lindsay. If someone spends the night at a hospital, the average stay costs about $500 on the citizens’ dime.

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