In recognition of World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day, Calgary Homeless Foundation is celebrating the success of a unique partnership in the city’s homeless-serving sector that pairs people experiencing homelessness with virtual or in-person mental health supports.

Mental health challenges can pose a barrier to obtaining and keeping a home, and the experience of homelessness can exacerbate a person’s mental health issues. According to The Mental Health Commission of Canada, between 25-50% of the homeless population in Canada suffer from a mental illness. On average, about three-quarters of those on our triage list awaiting housing have identified mental health concerns.

Calgary’s homeless-serving sector is doing its part to address these challenges. From March to September 2021, people experiencing homelessness attended 403 individual counselling sessions as part of the Rapid Care Counselling pilot. Of those 403, 88 (22%) were virtual, while the remaining 315 were conducted in-person at 17 different agencies in Calgary.

The pilot, launched earlier this year in February, is an innovative collaboration between Calgary Homeless Foundation, CUPS, and Catholic Family Service (CFS) that responds to the growing need for mental health supports during the pandemic.

Both CFS and CUPS have an established track record of offering mental health services to people experiencing homelessness through the CFS Rapid Care Access Counselling program and CUPS Shared Care Mental Health program.

Under the pilot, people who are at risk of homelessness or who are living without a home in shelters or supportive housing connect with a qualified CFS counsellor within three business days.

During their initial session, participants receive a care plan that may include future sessions, community supports, or referrals to long-term mental health supports with CUPS Shared Care Mental Health counsellors. Since the start of the pilot, 82 participants have moved past their initial session with CFS counsellors to attend an additional session with CUPS.

At the time of the launch, Patricia Jones, President and CEO of Calgary Homeless Foundation, described the pilot as “the first step in connecting the health, housing, and homelessness sectors together and addressing the systemic issues contributing to someone’s experience of homelessness.”

In a recent Family Service Canada newsletter, a participant of the pilot said, “The session was extremely helpful. I achieved the mindset I was looking for.” Another participant noted, “I feel more confident about my plans for the future.”

Calgary Homeless Foundation looks forward to continuing this vital service for children, youth, adults, and families as they navigate through their mental health and housing challenges.