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Mental Health and Social Housing

Mobilizing Community Assets to Support Single Adults Living with Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders in Social Housing in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Carrie Anne Marshall, Fiona Drake, Sarah Reynolds, Abe Oudshoorn, Rebecca Gewurtz, Erica Erickson, Brooke Phillips, Julia Holmes, Corinna Easton, Shauna Perez, Terry Landry, Ellie Lambert, Carla Stacey & Theresa Metcalfe


Social housing is housing that is owned and/or operated by governments or non-profit groups for the purpose of providing deeply affordable housing for individuals living in low income. It is an essential social service, and one that is needed more than ever before in the context of a growing housing affordability and homelessness crisis that continues to persist across Canada and beyond [1]. In recent decades, approaches to supporting individuals living with mental illness have shifted from institutional approaches to community-care models where individuals live in and receive services in their homes and the community. These shifts, which have been important for promoting the recovery of Canadians living with mental illness, have changed the landscape of social housing. Because individuals living with mental illness experience poverty at a disproportionate rate, access to social housing is essential for meeting their housing needs. Social housing providers have noticed these changes, and report that they are supporting a tenant group that has become increasingly complex over time [2]. Social housing providers are considered landlords, however, and as such, are allotted little to no funding to provide services to tenants. Instead, they are intended to rely on community services to meet the needs of their tenants in the community. In recent years, however, social housing providers have reported that community services are not meeting their tenants’ needs, and consistent with these reports, tenants living with mental illness report a range of unmet needs [2, 3]. This has likely worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed serious health inequities among individuals living in poverty [4, 5].

     This report represents the findings of a stakeholder consultation with tenants living with mental illness in social housing, social housing staff and leaders, and community service providers in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. In this consultation, we focused on identifying the strengths and unmet psychosocial needs of single adult tenants living with mental illness in social housing. We collaborated with one social housing provider, Kingston-Frontenac Housing Corporation (KFHC), located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. In conducting this consultation, we have interviewed tenants, KFHC staff and leadership, and community service providers who support tenants in social housing. We conducted: 1) mixed interviews (qualitative and qualitative) with 85 tenants; 2) qualitative interviews with 10 KFHC staff and leaders; and 3) qualitative interviews with 13 community service providers in the Kingston, Ontario community.
     Our report begins with a rationale for this project, followed by a summary of the stakeholder consultation methods used. This is followed by a detailed summary of our consultation findings with all three stakeholder groups. We end our report by making several recommendations for future research, policy and practice aimed at more effectively addressing the psychosocial needs of tenants living with mental illness in social housing in the Kingston community. Our recommendations, while based on interviews conducted in the Kingston, Ontario community, may be relevant to researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in a range of communities. The findings of our consultation will be used as a foundation for co-designing strategies in collaboration with tenants, social housing staff and leaders and community service providers aimed at improving the psychosocial well-being of social housing tenants.

“Nobody cares about you as a group of people”: a mixed methods study of women living in congregate social housing in Ontario, Canada

Carrie Anne MarshallCarina TjörnstrandEmily DownsRebecca Devries Fiona Drake

Received 13 Nov 2019, Accepted 05 Jul 2020, Published online: 22 Jul 2020


Guided by the social model of disability, we carried out this exploratory study to understand the health and psychosocial needs of women living in social housing in Ontario, Canada. Using a sequential, mixed-methods design, we interviewed 19 women using a 126-item quantitative interview including six standardized measures exploring indicators of psychosocial well-being. From these findings, we designed a qualitative interview protocol and returned to participants. We calculated descriptive statistics for quantitative variables and analyzed qualitative data using thematic analysis. Participants reported a median of six unmet basic psychosocial needs (range 1–16; IQR = 6), a high prevalence of health conditions and associated disability with scores falling above the 80th percentile on all subtests of a disability measure. Qualitative findings revealed that participants were living in an environment that made it challenging to meet their basic needs and felt abandoned by community supports. A persistent lack of safety led to self-isolation, which negatively influenced mental well-being. Social housing is aimed at alleviating poverty and its associated harms, yet women face multiple barriers to meeting their basic needs through existing supports and continue to experience poverty. Social housing can be disabling environments for women living in poverty.

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