This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Vancouver film, “A Model Person” with The Centre of Research, Policy & Program Development at the John Howard Society of Ontario. The Centre engages in research which contributes to the evidence-based literature in the criminal and social justice fields, policy analysis and rigorous program evaluation.

 “I do brunch once a month.”

If this were uttered by a well-to-do urbanite, you’d probably take it as a given; banal, even. However, context matters. When MadDogg says it, it’s given entirely new meaning; to ‘do’ brunch, is to prepare a meal for 100 people. Many take for granted their disposable income, that they have a roof over their heads every night, that if they had a mental illness or addiction, they would never wind up in a shelter, let alone jail. ‘It couldn’t happen to me’. Stability is taken for granted. Unfortunately for thousands of Canadians, instability shapes their daily lives.

MadDogg, through the supportive housing he resides in, is experiencing stability and continuity for the first time in a long time. Homeless individuals face numerous challenges. Here’s some context: poverty, lack of social supports, unemployment and lack of stable housing all increase an individual’s likelihood of becoming homeless. Homelessness, in turn, is linked with mental illness and addictions, poor health outcomes, victimization and criminal justice system involvement. Due to a lack of community treatment options, many people with mental illness and/or addictions are ‘housed’ in overcrowded jails. And if these individuals were not homeless entering jail, they have a good chance of leaving homeless, which in turn increases the likelihood of re-incarceration. Not having housing arranged prior to release from jail creates, in criminal justice parlance, a ‘revolving door’.

A recent study by the John Howard Society of Ontario found that providing justice-involved homeless individuals with supportive housing, with staffing approaches that are client-centered and strengths-based, works to address the many challenges underlying homelessness. Client-centered care provides that client plans are individualized based on each client’s unique goals and capacities. MadDogg notes that the staff in his building see the qualities of a role model in him. What’s more, he enjoys working in the kitchen and receives modest compensation for his work. These types of experiences and interactions, which enhance self-sufficiency, self-esteem and structure, are invaluable steps toward recovery and integration. To someone who has not experienced mental illness or homelessness, this may not seem like much. But context matters.

Housing is a critical piece of the complicated homelessness puzzle; without a stable home and a fixed address, an individual’s ability to access social services, healthcare, treatment for mental illness and/or addictions and employment will be compromised. MadDogg’s story shows us what promise housing first approaches hold.