A still from the Here At Home film, "Will to Live"

Paula Goering is not only the lead researcher of the At Home/Chez Soi study, she and Senior Executive staff from the Mental Health Commission of Canada headed the team that designed it. We’ve consulted her many times while creating this web documentary and have come to admire her remarkable ability to blend compassion with scientific rigour. Despite a hectic schedule, she agreed to be interviewed over the phone a few weeks ago. This article is a very small excerpt from that conversation. More will follow.  

What difference does a home make for people dealing with mental illness and addiction?

It’s not just having a home. Housing First is about having a home quickly and then being offered assistance. Housing alone wouldn’t work. But Housing First, with the right combination of support, does have a lot of potential to help people change the pattern of their lives. Not for everybody, and not all the time, but for many people this is the case.

Why is it important to have a home quickly?

Housing people quickly makes a great deal of sense because it’s very difficult to make progress and work on the other problems in your life when all of your energy and time is focussed on surviving and managing in a system where you’re moving from shelter to shelter. When you have to be out in the morning every day looking for where you’re going to get your food, you can’t at the same time be also trying to do more constructive things about your health and your life.

How does being in a stable, safe environment affect symptoms of mental illness?

It’s less stressful and stress is one of the triggers for anxiety and depression. So the immediate triggers are reduced in terms of the symptomatology. And oftentimes, people are more motivated to seek other treatments like medication, or psychotherapy, or addiction treatment, because they have a sense that they can work on these things, that they have the support to do so, and that perhaps their lives can be different than they have been in the past. So there’s lots of ways in which having a home, especially for someone who hasn’t had one for a long time, can be a turning point in their lives.