Guest Editorial: Supportive Housing Changed My Life
Network, Spring/Summer 2005
I am honoured to be asked to write the guest editorial for this issue ofNetwork on homelessness and supportive housing.
Supportive housing is an important step on a person’s journey to recovery. I know this from my personal experience. Many of you have heard my story of how supportive housing has changed my life. Here is a summary of what I say:
‘For over 20 years, I lived with concurrent disorder, suffering from severe depression and finding myself in and out of hospital repeatedly. Believe me, it was no life. I felt like a zombie, and I was just going through the motions trying to survive with no sense of self-esteem, self-respect, dignity, purpose or hope.
Then my life changed when I became involved with Progress Place. One of the best things that ever happened to me was the opportunity they gave me to move into my own apartment. Having a real address changed my attitude dramatically, affecting all parts of my life. I was able to work several part-time jobs, and serve on boards and committees. I now recognize my rights as a person and as a tenant and advocate for myself and others.’
In this issue of Network, you will read several articles by people like me who share their experiences of how housing and support have helped them live with their mental illness. You will also read about how difficult it is to find supportive housing (especially in rural areas) and the work of the HomeComing Community Choice Coalition in fighting to get supportive housing built in the city. Also in this issue are profiles of several housing programs and how they try to meet the complex needs of their members. This issue also challenges our preconceptions of who is homeless and illustrates through photography and artwork the importance of ‘home.’
I am a member of The Dream Team. We tell our personal stories to demonstrate the life-altering benefits of supportive housing. We have spoken to over 10,000 people, including politicians and other groups, with the aim of increasing awareness of the need for supportive housing. However, we also want action, and we recently launched a postcard campaign to get the current provincial government to keep their promise to increase the number of supportive housing units in Ontario by 6,600. The number we need is almost double that figure.
Research has demonstrated that with supportive housing, people with mental illness are much more likely to recover and lead productive, fulfilling lives. Supportive housing is also cheaper than hostels or hospitalization and reduces pressures on the health care system by reducing hospitalization and emergency room visits. It makes good economic sense, so why the inaction?
Michael Wilson, former federal finance minister and chair of one of the Mental Health Implementation Task Forces, has said, ‘Supportive housing is a cornerstone in the foundation to support recovery. Without it, the emergency wards, the jails and the streets become the default options.’
I feel a great sense of being part of my community, free of stigma and discrimination, because we as tenants support each other. Our compassionate workers are there when we need them, to provide as much or as little support as we need. I have regained a healthy lifestyle, and I celebrate that fact every day.
Linda Chamberlain is a member of The Dream Team, an organization of psychiatric consumer/survivors who advocate for supportive housing for people living with mental illness by telling their personal stories. For more information, contact The Dream Team at 720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 316, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2T9, call 416-929-1919, or visit www.thedreamteam.ca.
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