From this point forward: Ending custodial housing for people with mental illness in Canada

Research Report Round-up

In brief

Housing is a health issue. People who live in substandard housing or who are homeless are not only vulnerable to illness and disease but also have a hard time accessing health services. For people with mental illness, this problem can have fatal outcomes.

This report by the Community Support and Research Unit of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health gives an overview of the custodial housing model and explains the limitations of the model. The aim of the report is to exchange knowledge and offer practical strategies and examples that will facilitate the move from the custodial to the best practice housing models.

EENet has developed a Research Report Round-up of the report, “From This Point Forward: Ending Custodial Housing for People with Mental Illness in Canada.”

Research Report Round-ups are brief summaries of research reports, presented in a user-friendly format.

Read the summary below or download the PDF.

Title and link to report: From This Point Forward: Ending Custodial Housing for People with Mental Illness in Canada
Author(s): Community Support and Research Unit (CSRU), Centre for Addiction and Mental
Year: 2012
Location: Toronto 

What this report is about

This report is intended to support a national community of interest aimed at facilitating the move from custodial to best practice housing models by exchanging knowledge and offering practical strategies and examples. The paper gives an overview of the custodial housing model and explains the limitations of the model. Among the report’s key messages:

  • What is Custodial Housing?
  • In custodial housing, residents are cared for in a standardized fashion. Landlords are often private and for-profit.
  • Custodial housing, by its very nature, maintains the skill deficits of residents rather than promote their development. Residents often have little privacy and minimal opportunities to There has been ample research and first-person accounts that describe custodial housing as having negative effects on recovery and quality of life.
  • In Ontario, about 60% of current beds available for people with mental illness are custodial.
  • There are many examples of housing programs that have gone from a custodial approach to a model that is more reflective of best practices.

Five reasons to eliminate custodial housing:

  1. It violates human rights.
  2. It is not a cost-effective model. 
  3. People can and do recover from serious mental illness.
  4. People know what they need to recover.
  5. It can be done and has to be done.

Strategies to eliminate custodial housing:

  • Create a climate for change: A shift in thinking is needed by stakeholder groups, including clients themselves, as well as housing and healthcare workers, and policymakers. The paper includes examples of concrete steps interested communities can take to create a climate for change while remaining sensitive to clients’ needs and wishes.
  • Change existing funding strategies: Examples and ideas are given on new ways to reallocate funding to promote best practice housing models.
  • Partner with non-governmental organizations to raise funds: Gives real-life examples of how partnerships can create best practice housing models.

Examples of best practice housing models:

  • Habitat Services and the Eglinton Project (Toronto, ON): Habitat is working to improve new housing stock (e.g. increased privacy through single bedroom and bachelor units) and change existing stock (e.g., ensuring tenants’ rights through the Residential Tenancy Act). The paper includes an innovative best practice example, The Eglinton Project.
  • Edmond Place (Toronto, ON): This former 55-bed rooming house was turned into 29 self-contained, affordable units. It offers 24/7 housing and peer support, as well as a meal plan option. It is a partnership between the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) and Habitat Services.
  • Wakamow Place (Moose Jaw, SK): Multiple sectors (municipal non-profit housing, municipalities, health regions, mental health services, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) raised funds to turn a former group home into subsidized, self-contained apartment units. At Wakamow Place, tenants are offered support that is customized to their needs and wishes. 

How can this report be used

People working in the custodial housing sector will find useful strategies to facilitate the transition to the best practice housing model and examples of housing that have made the transition

Population addressed

People with mental illness

Key words

Housing; mental illness; best practice; recovery

Contact person/source

Nick Kerman
nkerm094 [at] uottawa [dot] ca



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