Funding for unique strategy to prevent homelessness after hospital discharge

In Canada, about 235,000 people experience homelessness each year. The number of homeless people, and the length of time they spend homeless, continues to rise. Homelessness is not a choice and anyone can become homeless. 

Although the root cause is poverty, some underlying issues are poor physical or mental health; violence or abuse in the home; lack of employment or income; and, a shortage of affordable housing. 

A group of researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson), working at both London Health Sciences (LHSC) and St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s), are committed to tackling the issue of homelessness from within hospital walls, where some patients face the risk of being discharged into homelessness. 

“Many of our patients with lived experience of homelessness were saying that their journey started with a hospital discharge,” says Lawson clinician researcher Dr. Cheryl Forchuk. “Often, they were experiencing major transitions in their lives and then experienced a hospital stay. Normally a relatively short visit, they aren’t able to gather the information and make a plan to be able to leave the hospital with somewhere to stay.”

On September 10, Adam Vaughan, Canadian MP and Parliamentary Secretary (Housing and Urban Affairs), on behalf of the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, announced that Lawson will receive $223,572 from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy’s (HPS) Innovative Solutions to Homelessness funding stream to support the project “No Fixed Address Version 2 Expansion” research project. 

Group giving announcement

“This is a brilliant approach. It supports an augmented duty of care where hospitals have the means to transfer people into stable settings where they can continue to heal and move towards self-sufficiency,” says Parliamentary Secretary Vaughan. 

Taking place at London Health Sciences Centre, this research will further refine the No Fixed Address strategy for reaching and supporting patients during the crucial transitional period when they are being discharged from the hospital and re-integrated into the community. 

“Lawson’s expanded No Fixed Address research project is the first evaluation anywhere of a strategy to reduce the number of patients being discharged into homelessness. There is almost no literature on any aspect of this troublesome issue,” explains Dr. Forchuk who is the study’s Principal Investigator. Dr. Forchuk is also the Beryl and Richard Ivey Research Chair in Aging, Mental Health, Rehabilitation and Recovery and Assistant Director at Lawson.

Dr. Cheryl Forchuk

This project is an extension of three previous studies conducted by Dr. Forchuk’s research team, which developed and tested this novel approach. They demonstrated the efficacy, feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using the No Fixed Address strategy in acute and tertiary psychiatric care in the London region, at both LHSC and St. Joseph’s. In the first phase, they found that the interventions used prevented homelessness in 95 per cent of cases. 

The researchers are now taking a solution proven to have worked in the mental health units and applying it in selected medical departments at LHSC. Through the study, the services will be available to all patients in those units who are at risk of homelessness. There have already been 17 patients who have accessed this support since the project got underway this summer. 

Three community partners from London are supporting implementation of the strategy - Canadian Mental Health Association Middlesex, Ontario Works in the City of London and the Salvation Army’s Housing Stability Bank. They will provide assistance in areas like securing appropriate private-sector housing, provision of income and employment supports, and financial assistance. 

“In many ways London, Ontario is the high water mark of solving and tackling homelessness. This community has a lot of be proud of given the way that the municipality is stepping up to the plate and how many different organizations are working together towards a common goal,” says Parliamentary Secretary Vaughan. 

This kind of collaboration showcases the important partnership between the Canadian Government, research-intensive hospitals and community organizations to translate innovative solutions from the research stage to the front line of care. 

“The hope is that the findings will be even more robust, leading to the development of a best-practice model of hospital discharge that can be adopted throughout Canada. This will reinforce the need for a systemic change in the way hospital discharges occur and ensuring the person is transitioning to a secure housing arrangement,” says Dr. Forchuk. 

Learn more about the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy

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