Last year, the government set a bold long-term goal to end homelessness in Ontario as part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. The province has since appointed a new Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness that will provide practical advice on how to best approach this goal. The 13-person panel includes academics, physicians and people who have been homeless themselves. With their collective range of expertise the panel will support the development of the province’s action plan and annual progress reports to end homelessness.
According to the City of Toronto’s Street Needs Assessment 2013, Toronto’s homeless population is increasing. In 2013, more than 5,200 people were homeless and around 450 were sleeping in the streets. The average duration of homelessness was three years, and for every one person who is homeless, another 23 individuals live in unsafe, crowded or unaffordable housing (or are “vulnerably housed”).
Individuals who are homeless or vulnerably housed face an increase in chronic health conditions, mobility issues, cognitive decline, assault and emergency department visits. Furthermore, they often have difficulty accessing appropriate health care.
The prevalence of mental health conditions among homeless or vulnerably housed individuals is also much higher than the rest of the population. In a Canadian study,more than half (52 percent) reported a past diagnosis of a mental health condition and 61 percent have had a traumatic brain injury at some point in their lives. Many individuals who have endured significant trauma and emotional distress would benefit from stable and affordable housing. However, there continues to be a supportive housing shortage throughout the country. For example, in Toronto more than 8,000 people with mental health issues are on the waiting list for supportive housing.
In order to address this problem, CMHA Ontario continues to advocate for improving housing options for homeless individuals experiencing mental health and/or addictions issues. Read its policy brief on homelessness and more about their work on homelessness on the CMHA Ontario website.