Homeless study makes housing a human right
Since last August, researchers in Vancouver have been putting the "Housing First" approach to battling homelessness to the test -- and one of their subjects says he's already turning his life around.
The strategy, which was first introduced in New York in the early 1990s, is based on the concept that housing is a human right – even for those with addictions to drugs or alcohol, like Daniel MacKinnon.
The 54-year-old says he spent five years "sad and depressed" on the street before being offered a chance to stay at the Bosman Hotel in downtown Vancouver. He was given a humble home in a room with a view.
"It's bright in here. It's excellently bright," MacKinnon said. "I'm constantly smiling now. Before, I was a real grumpy old guy."
The facility, which was opened by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the PHS Community Services Society, offers each resident a private bathroom and access to a range of medical and social supports.
People like MacKinnon are taken as they are; they don't have to be clean to move in, and they don't need to go into treatment once they do. MacKinnon says he likes it that way.
"For people like me, I don't like being pushed into something," he said.
But he's still working on his addiction, and now wants to go back to school. That's positive news for researchers, who are tracking MacKinnon and his fellow residents for two years, comparing their progress to people without homes or support.
Catharine Hume of the Mental Health Commission calls it a "really exciting opportunity to find out what really works." Vancouver is one of five Canadian cities taking part in the study which will monitor more than 2,200 homeless people. It's the largest study of its kind in the world.
Because there's a doctor and case manager who can help residents just down the stairs, it's considered supportive housing – and it's the direction governments are heading in getting homeless off the streets of Vancouver.
For many who have struggled on the streets with mental illness, it's the first stable housing they've had in years.
"When I first moved in, I was a little kind of crazy," MacKinnon said. "With all the support, I slowly came out of that and I started treating myself physically and mentally a lot better."
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Mi-Jung Lee