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Housing is Health

Posted April 7th, 2017

The need for mental health supports

By Janice Chan

Janice Chan is a System Planner at CHF


Alberta’s Health Funding Agreement March 10th announcement of an additional $1.3 billion over the next 10 years, including $586 million in support of mental health initiatives is good news for Albertans.  Given that this funding falls short of the 5.2% increase the Alberta Government requested of Ottawa[1], the Alberta government will need to be prudent with its spending to make the greatest impact in a cost-effective manner.

Greatest Impact

People experiencing mental illness are at greater risk of homelessness and the experience of homelessness, “in turn, amplifies poor mental health.”[2]  We know this to be true in Calgary.  Ganesh et al. (2013) screened clients at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre for common psychiatric disorders and found 92.8% experienced one or more psychiatric illness and 60% had been undiagnosed and (or) untreated for their illness.[3]  Furthermore, according to CHF’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) data collected between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2014, 48% of clients in CHF’s housing programs experience mental illness.  Given the pressing need to address mental illness amongst people experiencing homelessness, we believe this critical investment would have a substantial impact on Calgary’s most vulnerable people.

Cost Savings

The At Home/Chez Soi study demonstrated that, for people experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness, there are substantial savings associated with the provision of housing with supports. The final report demonstrated that for the 10% of participants who were using the most services upon enrolment, every $1 invested in housing and professional support during the course of the study resulted in average savings of just over $2. And across all study participants, every $1 invested in housing and professional support resulted in $0.75 in savings on health, justice-related and social services.[4]  The 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada report estimates that homelessness costs Canadians over $7 billion per year.  Investing in critical social services, like mental health supports for Calgary’s most vulnerable can provide much needed cost savings to the public purse.

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What’s Needed

CHF’s 2017 budget submissions to federal and provincial governments, have asked for $8 million to help meet critical local funding needs to support vulnerable tenants in 166 new affordable housing units, scheduled to be built through the RESOLVE Campaign.  Funding for the full capital costs of these buildings is in place, however, program funding required to support tenants living in these buildings has not been confirmed. Long-term funding for adequate supports must be secured for people experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness to remain stably housed.

Bradley et al. (2016) concluded that money invested in health should not be limited to spending on health care, but also in social services and public health.[5] We hope that the recent additional mental health funding will be used not only to support health care, but also social services to help stabilize Calgary’s most vulnerable in housing through collaboration between Alberta Health and Community and Social Services.  Calgary’s Bridgeland and Ophelia Support Program, cost-shared by the two ministries, demonstrates the benefits of collaboration to provide stable housing and mental health services for people with severe and persistent mental illness and experiencing homelessness.  Not only will this investment make a substantial impact, but also provides cost-savings in health and justice public expenditures.

CHF welcomes the opportunity to further consult with the provincial government as it develops “a detailed plan on how these funds will be spent, over and above existing programs,” with the hope that it will include support to people experiencing mental illness and homelessness.


[1] Kaufmann, B. (2017) ‘Alberta says it hoped for more in $1.3-billion health funding deal with Ottawa’, Calgary Herald, Available from: http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/alberta-says-it-hoped-for-more-in-1-3-billion-health-funding-deal-with-ottawa, [29 Mar.2017].

[2] Homeless Hub. (n.d.) Mental Health, [online]. Available from: http://homelesshub.ca/about-homelessness/topics/mental-health [Accessed 16 Mar. 2017].

[3] Ganesh, A., Campbell, D., Hurley, J., Patten, S. (2013) ‘High Positive Psychiatric Screening Rates in an Urban Homeless Population’, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 58(6), 353-360.

[4] Goering, P., Veldhuizen, S., Watson, A., Adair, C., Kopp, B., Latimer, E., Nelson, G., MacNaughton, E., Streiner, D., & Aubry, T. (2014) National At Home/Chez Soi Final Report. Calgary: Mental Health Commission of Canada.

[5] Bradley, E., Canavan, M., Talbert-Slagle, K., Ndumele, C., Taylor, L., and Curry, L. (2016) ‘Variation in Health Outcomes: The Role of Spending on Social Services, Public Health and Health Care, 2000-09’, Health Affairs, 35(5), 760-768.

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