EDITORIAL: City was on the right track

A report by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) shows that a “housing first” approach to sheltering the homeless is effective in ending homelessness among people with mental illness.

It also has the added benefit of saving money.

The task force on homelessness recently created by Abbotsford city hall should be paying close attention. And so should the “homeless society” that’s received funding from the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association, and which is suggesting a “dignity village” is their primary focus.

The report studied more than 2,000 homeless Canadians with mental illness, from a variety of backgrounds, who have found housing over a two-year period through a federally funded initiative.

Housing first is a concept based on the belief that having a roof over someone’s head is the first step before addressing issues of substance abuse or mental health.

The report found that for every $10 invested into housing first projects, $22 were saved.

On April 1, the federal government’s $600-million Homelessness Partnering Strategy is shifting to a housing first approach.

Abbotsford recently passed up $17 million in provincial funding for a housing first project in downtown Abbotsford.

Now, a task force is discussing solutions to homelessness.

The “dignity village” approach – essentially a sanctioned homeless camp – is a temporary solution with no next transitional step if the city doesn’t have a housing first facility. And that does little to address the core causes of homelessness, such as mental illness and substance abuse, and their related public costs in terms of health care and social services.

Abbotsford obviously had the right idea. Now it’s a matter of getting back to it.

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