The links between mental health and homelessness are complex. Some people develop a mental illness and this leads to homelessness (for instance, they may lose their job or their housing because of their illness). Others are perfectly healthy, but end up homeless due to a shortage of affordable housing and then, once they are homeless, they develop mental illness due to the stresses and conditions of life on the streets.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially launched the Canadian Mental Health Commission today, with former senator Michael Kirby as chair. The feds will support the commission with $5 million this year and next, and $15 million annually after that.
The new commission is good news, but it will take more than a panel of experts to get some action. The feds, along with the provinces and territories, need to commit substantial dollars to community mental health initiatives, especially supportive housing. Supportive housing, along with all other forms of affordable and social housing, has been on the critical list since the massive housing cuts and downloading at the federal and provincial levels starting in the 1990s.
In Ontario, supportive housing has been a political football in recent years, with ministerial responsibility bouncing from housing to health and now down to the LHINs (local health integration networks). Despite many political promises, the dollars are far short of the need.
Just a few days ago, the Canadian Institute for Health Information released a new review of mental health and homelessness. It has a good overview of the issues.