Laurier professor helps those experiencing homelessness

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Following a CBC Kitchener-Waterloo Radio article, Geoffrey Nelson, psychology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, spoke about his four-year research project about homelessness and mental health.

Nelson implemented this study, At Home Chez Soi, to prove that housing greatly benefits those with chronic homelessness, mental health struggles, addiction and other factors that contribute to homelessness.

“The study was a research demonstration project funded by the government and the mental health commission of Canada testing an approach called housing first for people with serious mental illness and lengthy histories of homelessness,” Nelson said.

“Oftentimes these people have other complications including addictions to drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Prior to this study, a similar approach has primarily been used in the U.S. in a number of large cities. The goal of the study was to see how this approach would work in a Canadian context.

“The goal of the study was to first approach how effective housing first was to combat homelessness and improve people’s quality of life.”

Another goal was to see how well this approach worked in different Canadian communities, different sizing and different ethnic makeup,” Nelson said.

The findings of this study concluded that housing first programs greatly benefit people’s ability to recover and seek treatment for their addictions and mental health struggles.

“We found that peoples’ quality of life had improved and the engagement in community functions had improved which had a more positive, life-changing impact then having people seek treatment as usual without the housing first benefit.”

The study helped implement other housing first programs as well as implementing a homelessness tool kit in dealing with these social issues.

“One of the things we did was develop a housing first tool kit for Canada which is a resource for Canadian communities and how they can implement in that particular approach,” Nelson said.

Following the end of the study, the federal government offered a review which then created a shift in the way the federal government was spending money on homelessness initiatives.

“Prior to this project the, [federal government] took the funds and dispersed them in any way they saw fit and now after the Home Chez Soi project … the federal government made an intentional shift to repurpose the homeless partnering strategy in large communities. Now, two-thirds of the money now goes into the housing first approach,” Nelson said.

“This has also been very successful in pushing communities to implement a housing first approach with training and tools like the housing first tool kit so that Canada is becoming a world leader in chronic homelessness because of its research and policy change.”

Nelson hopes that there will be a shift in the way that people look at homelessness.

Due to the success of the housing first initiatives, people can now recognize the impact that rent supplement and assistance can go in transforming the lives of those experiencing homelessness, mental health and addiction.

“There is hope and the hope is inspired by people coming together and the hope is inspired by research that shows what works and what doesn’t work. In the past, we have had people with many different ideas about programs trying to serve this population.”

Nelson said that when you provide people with rent assistance, it makes strides towards combatting homelessness.

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