A new report looks at improving supportive housing
for justice-involved individuals with mental health and addictions issues
(Barrie, Dec. 14, 2020) – A new report by Ontario’s leading experts on housing, justice, and mental health and addictions has outlined how existing supportive housing could more effectively meet the needs of justice-involved individuals and reduce strain on the health and justice systems.
The Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee (P-HSJCC)’s Housing and justice report: Improving supportive housing for justice-involved individuals with mental health and addiction issues recaps key themes that emerged from a provincial housing and justice forum in February 2020 and makes six recommendations for immediate action to improve access, service delivery and provincial ministry-level policy related to supportive housing.
During the February forum, human services, housing and justice leaders and individuals with lived experience identified six core areas of need in the system, including: available and accessible core services; increased communication, co-operation and collaboration among the sectors; continuity of care/consistent discharge planning; increased education and training for service providers; increased access to legal support services for justice-involved individuals; and increased housing supply.
COVID-19 has since underscored these issues. To limit spread in correctional institutions, many non-violent individuals have been released from custody, but often without plans or the necessary tools in place to support their reintegration to society. A lack of discharge plans, especially for those on remand, is putting these individuals at additional risk of negative outcomes. This has put considerable strain on mental health and addictions, justice and housing supports in communities across the province with correctional institutions.
“A multi-faceted approach is required to improve access to supportive housing for individuals with complex needs involved in the criminal justice system,” said Debbie Bigelow, HSJCC Simcoe-Muskoka Networking Committee Regional Co-Chair. “The themes in this report present immediate opportunities for action to improve access to supportive housing. We’ve seen these challenges firsthand in Simcoe County with a number of early releases from custody without adequate supports in place. Without long-term solutions, lack of investments in supportive housing for justice-involved individuals will continue to overburden the health care and justice systems, place strain on community service providers and will lead to a continued cycle of justice involvement rates and negative outcomes for these populations.”
The housing and justice report outlines three recommendations to improve service delivery:
- Develop mandatory anti-oppression and equity-focused training to educate supportive housing service providers
- Increased access to and availability of community legal services to assist justice-involved individuals
- Increased collaboration and co-operation between community service providers to help clients connect with appropriate supports and improve access to supportive housing
Additionally, the report makes three provincial policy recommendations:
- The Ministries of Health; the Solicitor General; and Municipal Affairs and Housing make dedicated, long-term investments in supportive housing and case management for justice-involved individuals with mental health and addictions issues
- The Ministry of the Solicitor General, alongside community-based organizations, develop and implement a provincial strategy to ensure standardized discharge planning, with a focus on remand populations
- The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services revise social assistance policies to continue benefits for an extended period when a recipient is incarcerated to prevent potential loss of housing upon discharge
“Even before COVID-19 emerged, individuals discharged from correctional facilities struggled to find mental health and addiction services and supports and keep a roof over their heads,” said Dr. Valerie Grdisa, CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association, Simcoe County Branch. “The first wave of the pandemic forced facilities such as Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene to reduce the spread of the virus by discharging more people charged with non-violent offenses. These individuals re-entered their communities at a time when essential services were strained, placing vulnerable people at risk of losing their homes. Now, with a second and bigger wave emerging, we must act quickly and decisively to deliver supportive housing so more are not left to weather the storm of this pandemic and homelessness.”
The need to act was also voiced by someone who has lived experience with justice involvement in Simcoe County: “Release-from-custody planning, supportive housing and case management set people up for a second chance,” said Kim Penfold. “Once you’ve been in the criminal justice system, it’s really hard to get back on your feet. Without these supports, it’s too common for people in my situation to needlessly cycle in and out of the system. Ensuring supports are in place upon discharge gives people hope and a shot at success.”
The P-HSJCC as well as local and regional HSJCCs across Ontario urge the province to take immediate, targeted steps to ensure justice-involved individuals with mental health and addictions issues have access to safe, affordable and stable housing across the province.
- The average cost of providing social housing to one household is $613 per month.
- By comparison, the average cost of providing a shelter bed is $2,100 per month, while a long-term care bed costs $3,960 per month and a correctional facility bed costs $4,300 per month.
- The average cost of providing a hospital bed is $13,500 per month – more than 22 times as expensive as social housing.
About the Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee Network
The Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee (HSJCC) Network was established in response to a recognized need in the province to co-ordinate resources and services and plan more effectively for people who are in conflict with the law. Priority consideration is made for people with a serious mental illness, developmental disability, acquired brain injury, substance use issue, and/or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The HSJCC Network is made up of committees at the local, regional and provincial levels. HSJCCs are a co-operative effort of the Ministries of the Attorney General, Children, Community and Social Services, Health, and the Solicitor General. For more information, visit www.hsjcc.on.ca.
For more information, contact:
Debbie Bigelow, RN
Team Lead, HSJS Program, CMHA Simcoe County
Regional Co-Chair, HSJCC Simcoe-Muskoka Network Committee