September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. At first glance, affordable housing and suicide may appear as unrelated issues. A deeper look reveals an intricate web of stressors and vulnerabilities that is forcing some people into a situation they never imagined.
Affordable housing isn’t just about bricks and mortar—it’s intrinsically linked to mental well-being, community integration, and overall life satisfaction. Recognizing the profound relationship between housing affordability and suicide is the first step in creating strategies that address both issues simultaneously. With concerted efforts from governments, communities, and individuals, it’s possible to build a future where everyone has a safe place to call home and the mental peace that comes with it.
John never thought he’d lose his home of almost 20 years. But when a renoviction (when a landlord evicts a tenant by claiming they will complete major renovations) forced him to move out, he couldn’t find a new apartment. The retired electrician had no choice: he moved into a Homes First shelter.
“It was the lowest I’ve ever been,” says John, who contemplated taking his life. “I never thought I’d get back on my feet.”
Studies have found that eviction can be a significant predictor of suicide, especially within the subsequent two years post-eviction. Among the multitude of problems caused by a lack of affordable housing, there’s a silent crisis that often goes unnoticed: the connection between housing insecurity and suicide. When housing becomes unaffordable, it triggers a series of events that can push individuals and families into homelessness and exacerbates mental health conditions for those needing supportive housing.
According to a study from the American Journal of Public Health, individuals experiencing homelessness had a nine-fold increased risk of suicide compared to the general population.
The toll of the housing crisis
Being precariously housed can mean living in a place that’s in a state of disrepair, or living in a spot that’s overcrowded or unaffordable. More and more people in our city are experiencing the latter and its toll on their mental health.
- Financial Strain: High housing costs can place an extreme burden on individuals and families, leading to perpetual stress and anxiety.
- Insecurity: Constant worry about eviction or the inability to pay rent can result in feelings of hopelessness.
- Isolation: Housing instability might lead to social isolation, as people may be reluctant to form connections if they feel they might be displaced.
Everyone needs a home: Why homeless individuals at a higher risk of suicide
Several factors contribute to the heightened suicide risk among the homeless population:
- Isolation and Despair: Homelessness can be a deeply isolating experience. The lack of social support and the constant stress of securing basic needs can lead to feelings of hopelessness.
- Mental Health Challenges: Mental health issues are prevalent among the homeless. Without a stable environment and regular access to healthcare, managing these challenges becomes nearly impossible.
- Substance Abuse: Many people experiencing homelessness struggle with substance abuse, which can both be a cause and a result of their living situation. Alcohol and drugs might be used as coping mechanisms, which can further deteriorate one’s mental health and increase suicide risks.
- Stigma and Discrimination: The societal stigma associated with being homeless can further marginalize these individuals, causing feelings of worthlessness and rejection.
Addressing the crisis
Tackling the dual challenges of housing affordability and rising suicide rates is a multi-pronged approach. Governments and private entities should prioritize the construction of affordable housing units and implement more programs that provide rental assistance.
The community also plays a pivotal role in supporting those grappling with homelessness and housing insecurities by destigmatizing homelessness and supporting people to integrate into society and bridging the conversation between housing mental health.
How you can help
While systemic changes are essential, there are things that all individuals can do to help:
- Educate: Raise awareness about the realities of the affordable housing crisis and homelessness and break down stereotypes.
- Donate: Give to reputable organizations like ours that focus on helping the homeless.
- Volunteer: Dedicate your time by volunteering at one of our shelters
(e-mail email@example.com for more information).
- Advocate: Lobby for policies that provide more affordable housing and address the root causes of homelessness.
How we help
Homes First ensures that those facing housing hardships have access to mental health resources, counseling, and crisis intervention services. We also educate our clients in eviction prevention and tenant rights.
Our shelters provide a safe space to rest, which is many people’s first step towards stabilizing their life. On-site support groups and activities also provide a sense of community, and our harm reduction programs help address one of the significant risk factors for suicide.
Due to our many successful relationships with landlords, we found affordable housing for over 400 Homes First shelter residents between January and June of this year! One of those people was John.
“I’m so grateful to my housing worker for finding me a new place,” he says. “I don’t know if I would have stuck it out if it wasn’t for Homes First.”
Click here to hear from one of our housing workers!
Please check out this community Tool Kit, developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
If you are feeling in crisis, or need to support someone in crisis, you may find support in the following resources:
Talk Suicide: 1 833 456-4566 or text 45645
Toronto Distress Centres: 416 408-4357 or 408-HELP
Gerstein Centre Crisis Line: 416 929-5200
Spectra Helpline: 416 920-0497 or 905 459-7777 for Brampton and Mississauga residents
TTY: 905 278-4890; Languages: English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese
Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 416 863-0511; Toll-free: 1 866 863-0511
Kids Help Phone: 1 800 668-6868; Languages: English and French
Community Crisis Line Scarborough and Rouge Hospital: 416 495-2891 for 24/7 telephone crisis support.