An effort to house hundreds of “severely mentally ill” homeless people in five Canadian cities “led to greater improvements in housing stability, quality of life, and community functioning,” according to a study in Psychiatric Services.
The authors of the study, which was overseen by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, wrote that the effort involved 950 “high-need participants with severe mental illness, who were either absolutely homeless or precariously housed.” They were randomly assigned to the “Housing First” program or treatment as usual. “Housing First participants received a rent supplement, assistance to find housing, and assertive community treatment. Treatment-as-usual participants had access to all other existing programs.”
After a year, 73% of the Housing First participants were still in housing compared to 31% of the treatment-as-usual participants. Success was not dependent on the degree to which the participants were or were not struggling with their mental illnesses at the time, stated the researchers.
“Compared with treatment as usual, Housing First produced greater improvements in housing stability, quality of life, and community functioning after one year of enrollment,” they concluded. “The study provides support for adopting Housing First as an approach for ending chronic homelessness among persons with severe mental illness, even if they are actively symptomatic or using substances.”
The Washington Post recently profiled one of the designers of the program. “Meet Sam Tsemberis. According to academics and advocates, he’s all but solved chronic homelessness. His research, which commands the support of most scholars, has inspired policies across the nation… The results have been staggering.” According to the Post, Tsemberis built the model after noticing that coercively or forcefully medicating people who were homeless and mentally ill didn’t seem to help — while giving them “housing first,” and then inviting them into treatment programs did.
Aubry, Tim, Sam Tsemberis, Carol E. Adair, Scott Veldhuizen, David Streiner, Eric Latimer, Jitender Sareen, et al. “One-Year Outcomes of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Housing First With ACT in Five Canadian Cities.” Psychiatric Services 66, no. 5 (February 2, 2015): 463–69. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201400167. (Abstract)
‘Housing First’ Model Key to Improving Lives of Homeless, Study Finds (Psychiatric News, May 7, 2015)
Meet the outsider who accidentally solved chronic homelessness (Washington Post, May 6, 2015)