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Institutionalization not the way to stop homelessness: psychologist

Last Updated Dec 14, 2019 at 5:21 pm PST

Nanaimo mayor says the provinces construction of modular homes, which replaced a bulldozed tent city, is helping, but those suffering from mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, need specialized care. (Twitter, Leonard Krog)
Summary

Throwing people back into institutions isn't the answer says clinical psychologist and SFU professor

Krog says he doesn't want a return to warehousing mentally ill people as was the case in institutions like Riverview

NANAIMO (NEWS 1130) – A clinical psychologist says a call to institutionalize homeless people with serious mental illnesses by Nanaimo’s mayor isn’t the solution.

Julian Somers, also a professor at Simon Fraser University, says experts already know how to stop homelessness, that’s by giving people stable and permanent housing, first.

But he says the province hasn’t been listening.

“There is no need for people to be in tent cities, to be sleeping rough, and to be abandoned, with serious mental illnesses,” Somers says.

“Rapid re-housing,” along with a team of support workers, is the approach that works, even for people seen as ‘difficult to house,’ according to Somers.

“The call for institutional support is a reminder that following deinstitutionalization in B.C. we have yet to provide the resources in the communities that were the alternative, and the preferred alternative,” he says.

For those experiencing homelessness, rapid re-housing is meant to reduce the barriers of finding permeant housing quickly. It provides support for families and individuals to find a long term solution.

Rapid re-housing aims to get people out of shelters, into stable, permanent housing, quickly, without any preconditions.

Somers says that, along with a supportive team including psychologists and social workers, has been proven to help people stay off the streets.

But he says B.C. is lagging behind other parts of the world in replacing those institutions that closed in the ’70s, with programs that actually work.

He points to Helsinki, Finland, which has seen a decline in homelessness using a housing-first approach.

RELATED ARTICLE: Nanaimo mayor wants B.C. to institutionalize severely mentally ill people who are homeless

On Friday, Nanaimo’s Leonard Krog said the government’s construction of modular homes, which replaced a bulldozed tent city, is helping, but those suffering from mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, need specialized care.

“There are some really difficult-impossible, not hard, impossible-to house folks who should be institutionalized for their own protection, for the protection of the public. And in order to get them the kind of treatment, support and potential for recovery that they deserve,” he said.

Krog added he doesn’t want a return to warehousing mentally ill people as was the case in institutions like the Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, which began accepting fewer patients in the ’90s before closing.

The mayor says the city of under 100,000 people has a homeless population of between 600 and 800 and many who are mentally ill and causing public disorder need treatment in a facility based in the community.

-With files from The Canadian Press