Formerly homeless man finds hope, treatment through housing program
An Ottawa program offering homes for the homeless has paid off in spades for Mathieu Coderre, who has built a new life and managed his mental health issues thanks to the stability that comes with having a true home he can call his own.
Coderre, who once felt helpless to break out of life on the streets, now feels like he has more options in life than he can ever possibly explore. The 22-year-old has spent the last 10 months living in a one-bedroom apartment in Ottawa, where his rent is covered indefinitely through a Canadian Mental Health Association housing program.
Coderre has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and spent close to five years in shelters, sleeping on friends' couches, and on the streets. He said he couldn't find a job or stick to a treatment program for his mental health issues because he didn't have a stable place to call home. He said temporary housing didn't help him break out of that cycle, because he was always under pressure to get a job or go to school if he didn't want to be kicked out.
"I feel trapped here because I can't get out," he said last winter, adding that he would often "overthink" the steps to escaping homelessness, and feel helpless to accomplish it all at once.
"It's a long process," he said.
CTV News first spoke to Coderre last February, when he was still sleeping in shelters and on the streets of Ottawa. At the time, he was one of the 35,000 homeless people sleeping on the streets on a given night, and one of at least 235,000 Canadians who experienced homelessness in 2016.
But that was before he moved into one of the CMHA's publicly-funded apartments, where he was promised steady accommodation of his choice and support from a case worker.
Since entering the program last March, Coderre has improved by leaps and bounds. Now he's working to complete his high school diploma and building up a healthy circle of friends, thanks to the stability provided by a roof over his head.
"I'd say I've been doing pretty good," he told CTV News earlier this month. He said he loves being able to choose how he spends his day, and he values the opportunity to get treatment for his anxiety and depression. "Sometimes I have anxiety because I don't know what to do," he said. "In a way it's a great thing because I have so many options."
An estimated one in five Canadians will experience mental health or addiction issues during their life, according to the latest research. However, that rate is much higher among the homeless, with approximately 50 per cent of homeless individuals thought to have an underlying mental health condition.
Across Canada, there are a number of "housing first" programs, designed to get the homeless into stable, permanent housing as the first step. People need a home before they can begin to work on other issues through counselling, medical and psychiatric support.
Officials estimate there are between $2 and $20 in savings for every dollar spent on housing first programs, for those with the highest needs.
The CMHA housing program is limited in the number of apartments it can provide, but Coderre insists it's worth every taxpayer penny because of the difference it can make. "If you are a person who doesn't like seeing people on the street, and it bothers you, giving these people a home, it helps everybody," he said.
Putting a roof over people's heads is a crucial first step to helping them live happy, self-sufficient lives, Lisa Medd, program manager of the CMHA's housing department, told CTV News.
"When you are homeless your conditions are exacerbated," she said. "Their recovery is thwarted."
Medd said the program had a 93 per cent success rate in the first year.
"We have people back at work, or (who) are looking at schooling. We have one person who no longer needs intensive support," she said.
She added that the effort is worth additional government funding, because it's a "flexible and cost-effective" way to address homelessness nationwide.
"People still struggle in their lives - there will be ups and downs," she said. "But having that firm foundation, home base, an affordable place to live… keeps things on a more even keel."
Coderre said he is no longer on the streets and no longer receiving intensive case management. Instead, he's doing well on his own and looking ahead to tomorrow, instead of worrying about how he'll get through tonight.
"I have the world ahead of me," he said.
With files from CTV National News medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip