Why supportive housing matters more than ever

Supportive housing is an essential element of our health system. Well designed, affordable and professionally staffed housing creates opportunity for overcoming disability, resulting in personal stability and growth. And for those in supportive housing it ends homelessness, permanently.

As health care investments go, supportive housing is remarkably cost-effective. A relatively modest one-time capital investment creates beautiful housing. Further health care operating costs provide staff services reducing unnecessary hospitalization and improves the life experiences of people living with mental health or addiction challenges. Individuals with stable housing and access to health supports engage in healthy living, life goals, and quickly identify and treat health issues. When hospital is required, people return home earlier to followup supports already in place.

High quality supportive housing in independent apartments or congregate settings is capturing the attention of health planners, families and potential tenants.

At Indwell, the last two months have demonstrated the life changing value of having your own place to call home. Since March 13, our 600+ tenants across southern Ontario have participated in the largest public health initiative in memory by simply “staying home.” With modifications, essential services continue: people who need meals, assistance with medications or management of chronic health conditions continue to receive them; people who need relief from isolation receive safe visits, in person or over the phone. Everyone — tenants, their families and staff — have co-operated to deliver core services effectively.

But supportive housing is more than a service and programming. “Staying home” has been a time to reimagine community. We’ve witnessed our tenants becoming leaders in encouraging physical distancing among their neighbours, wearing masks as appropriate and actively participating with staff to implement measures that ultimately keep people safe.

For many of our tenants, it’s been an experience of becoming community in a new way, where ways of socializing we enjoyed in the past are put on hold to make sure everyone can come back to them later. Whether it’s virtual gatherings or hosting a parking lot concert, our tenants convey community spirit. Supportive housing matters because it achieves broader health system goals while creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate as full citizens.

The pandemic demonstrates that the value of supportive housing is its capacity to transform people from “the homeless,” “the mentally ill” or “the addicted” to citizens and neighbours. Through full participation in this public health initiative, our tenants are empowered members of community making a real impact. To date, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indwell facilities.

Supportive housing matters because it is one of the building blocks of a caring city.

This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on Friday, May 22, 2020.


  • Steven Rolfe (RN, BScN, MEd) Is Indwell’s Director, Mental Health Services. Steve is also Assistant Clinical Professor in McMaster University’s School of Nursing.

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