by Steven Rolfe, RN, BSCN, MED, CHE, Director of Health Partnerships, Indwell
Western University and Indwell have partnered to undertake award-winning research on the power of supportive housing to change lives. Indwell: Making Supportive Housing Work for Canada’s Most Vulnerable is a testimony to the courage of our tenants in living out their search for health, wellness, and belonging in the face of system constraints. The project was the 2022 recipient of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s “Golden Roof” Award. Under the leadership of Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and his team from Western University and the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion, researchers completed a two-year study of Indwell’s supportive housing at London’s Woodfield Gate Apartments, with funding from the National Housing Strategy.
Indwell exists for the care and support of people. We offer deeply affordable housing, care, and support to people experiencing mental health disorders, homelessness, substance use disorders, and other health challenges. We measure our own progress with our tenants and appreciate the personal testimonies of our tenants and partners who identify our work as important and of high quality.
However, there are gaps in what we know about our work. Some of the work we are doing is so new that there is very little to compare it to. While many see the need to replicate and expand work like Indwell’s, there is a significant lack of rigorous evaluation of supportive housing. Secondly, we have the opportunity to use the knowledge developed in our services to inform national policy. In a landscape of high competition for a relatively small basket of resources, lack of evidence can be detrimental to the growth of supportive housing supply for the most vulnerable.
I encourage you to read the full report. As I reviewed it, two items stood out to me.
The first is the affirmation that deep affordability, community, and access to support as a complete package are important to our tenants and a key element of their journey towards wellness. Not only is the availability of support a factor, but it is the availability of a deep and full range of support services that contributes to tenant health and wellness. Tenant narratives affirm what other data tells us: supportive housing can end homelessness for individuals and create new opportunities for recovery and growth.
The second finding is the fact that supportive housing is embraced within the National Housing Strategy as one of the six priority areas for action: “Housing for those in greatest need.” Permanent Supportive Housing is identified as a key intervention in ending the experience of homelessness for vulnerable Canadians, and yet—from a policy and resource-allocation perspective—lacks meaningful support in federal policy such as the National Housing Strategy. The very tool that can be used to end homelessness is, in fact—from a policy perspective—also homeless. While there are clear pathways for charities to develop new housing in terms of bricks and mortar, the same pathways don’t exist to find the supports to keep people housed.
The research concluded with a number of practical recommendations for both policy changes and local service delivery. They include:
- Social assistance rates must be increased to make affordability work better.
- Readily available, on-site supports should be integrated in more existing community/social housing, and affordable housing sites to expedite the process of expanding supportive housing.
- National Housing Strategy funding should support affordability and deep affordability. Loan funding for market-rent housing development should be a separate program.
- The National Housing Strategy should create a dedicated supportive housing stream to ensure that organizations who wish to house Canada’s most vulnerable are guaranteed some portion of operational funding.
- Other organizations who may provide affordable housing without current on-site supports—even those who work in the sector but not necessarily providing housing—should consider taking up delivery of permanent supportive housing.
This work verifies that continued advocacy for a singular policy which governs the creation of net new supportive housing resources blending health and housing resources will make the development of adequate housing a reality. Permanent supportive housing works; replicating it will require support through updates of the National Housing Strategy.
You can see more of our recommendations and stories from our study participants at: https://www.abeoudshoorn.com/making-supportive-housing-work-for-the-most-vulnerable/
This study will inform future policy—and we’re not finished. Together, we have secured additional funding to continue our research. The next phase of the research will trace the paths of tenants in particular outcomes like service usage, length of tenancy, and wellbeing. This will allow us to compare different forms of support being provided at four different housing sites in London and St. Thomas. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Western to study and improve our model of permanent supportive housing.