The role of supportive housing in breaking mental health barriers

by Blankets for T.O. on June 3rd, 2022

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Listeners to the most recent episode of our official podcast, Beyond the Blankets, may have already heard of the connection between Professor Steve Joordens' first-year psychology course and Desmond Rowley, a staff member at Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing. Don’t be worried if you haven’t listened to it, because in this article we take a deeper dive into how Houselink tackles homelessness with its emphasis on mental health and addiction treatment. 

People like Desmond Rowley may not be whom you would first think of when talking about supportive housing in Toronto. Having studied computer science and business administration, Desmond left his investment brokerage firm position of three years after beginning to feel unfulfilled in that position. He said that he had a strong desire to find a completely new adventure in his life, preferably one where he would be helping people and giving back. In his resulting journey, he joined a youth shelter to implement new programs, helped struggling individuals to find affordable housing, and gained experience across maintaining multiple recreation venues. Today, he is a Program Manager at Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing, a local charitable organization providing supportive housing and mental health services to struggling individuals in Toronto.

As the largest non-profit supportive housing organization in Toronto, Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing acknowledges the importance of housing in one’s life. The organization's roots date back to the 1970’s, when deinstitutionalization resulted in new demand for the housing system to support individuals that were recently released from psychiatric institutions. Today, the organization houses about 1120 individuals across more than 60 locations, while providing programs for mental illness, substance use, skills development, eviction prevention, recreation, and countless others. 

The organization's programs are heavily structured around enabling individuals to overcome their personal struggles to unlock their true potential. It first starts with providing affordable housing, which provides a strong foundation for individuals to seek growth and success. Houselink follows a “housing first” approach, which removes some stringent criteria involving substance use and mental health treatment imposed by other services that would traditionally make many homeless individuals ineligible. In one study, researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and St. Michael’s Hospital studied the efficacy of the "housing first" approach in Toronto, and found that it allowed individuals to become better able to secure and maintain housing.

Furthermore, Houselink’s Frontline Supportive Housing Workers help individuals maintain housing by connecting them with opportunities, counselling, and healthcare treatment. A important step in preventing homelessness is finding appropriate employment, which can be extremely difficult for individuals afflicted with certain mental illnesses (try quizzing yourself with the embedded question below!). Their supportive employment program can help individuals to eventually become receptionists, couriers, landscapers, cooks, painters, and much more. This support allows tenants to find stable and fulfilling lives for themselves. Thus, it is no wonder that their work in supporting individuals with mental illness has helped to prevent countless individuals from facing chronic homelessness. Individuals wishing to apply to Houselink’s services can learn more about their eligibility criteria and application process here.

Think you know the answer?

Between 2000-2019, the Canadian unemployment rate has hovered around 5-10%. According to CAMH, what is the unemployment rate among individuals afflicted with the most extreme mental illnesses?

Recently, students at the University of Toronto Scarborough were introduced to Houselink by Professor Steve Joordens through a collaboration which saw first-year psychology students make public service announcements and other forms of digital media to dispel common homelessness myths. Groups with the top submissions were then given the opportunity to work with Houselink and have their work posted to social media. In total, over 400 projects were created by over 1700 students! Blankets for T.O. was fortunate enough to cross paths with Steve Joordens in our second episode Beyond the Blankets. Have a listen on our podcast page if you have not yet listened to it!

Through this look at Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing, we hope that you have new insight into how existing organizations within Toronto are tackling homelessness and mental health. Maybe Desmond's personal journey has opened your eyes into what initiatives you can get involved in and how you can help local communities, irrespective of your academic background. Let us know if you want any other local organizations covered on our blog!

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