Houselink pioneered supportive housing in Canada, creating a new option for people leaving psychiatric institutions: a home that was permanent, affordable and supportive.
In 1976 a group of concerned individuals set out to address the impacts of de-institutionalization on psychiatric survivors who were being released from the hospital to the streets of Parkdale, without any consideration to housing or support. What started out with a few rental properties, supporting people to live in shared houses, grew to become Houselink Community Homes.
In 1977 Houselink incorporated as a non-profit, founded on the principle that housing is a fundamental right. Houselink received charitable status in 1978 and continued its growth emphasising choice and empowerment for the people it serves.
Through the 1980’s Houselink grew steadily under a number of Federal and Provincial housing initiatives, purchasing and developing 10 houses and 7 small buildings in neighbourhoods across Toronto.
In 1999 Houselink, in partnerships with Sistering, Hostel Outreach Program of CRCT and Shared Care services at CAMH, received funding through the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Homelessness Initiative to develop 100 new housing units for people who are homeless and experiencing mental illness. Four more buildings were added to the portfolio under this program and with supplementary funding from Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative, SCPI. Additional housing was provided through relationships with private landlords.
In 2001 Houselink was generously bequeathed a rooming house which was later developed into a self contained apartment building with funding from SCPII. They also received generous support from “Into the Warmth” a grassroots community group whose purpose is to raise funds to develop much needed housing to address homelessness in Toronto.
Also in 2001, Houselink received the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s Award for Excellence in recognition of sound management, tenant participation and innovative practises.
In 2005, in recognition of its outstanding work, Houselink was chosen as one of the four housing agencies to receive funding under the Mental Health and Justice Initiative to provide an additional 80 housing units for people who have become involved with the Justice system as a result of mental health issues. In 2006 Houselink received additional funding under this initiative for 16 more units.
Houselink currently owns 22 buildings across Toronto and supports people in over 20 other properties. We take pride in fitting into communities and being a good neighbour. we have faced opposition from neighbourhood associations when developing new locations. Our experience shows us that this is based on lack of understanding of mental illness and what supportive housing is. Once we are established in a neighbourhood these misunderstandings disappear and we are able to make positive contributions to the community.
Our tenants are members of the organization and are involved fully in its life and decisions. Another 100 consumer survivors who have joined Houselink to participate in its programs are also members. There is a great emphasis on community, on rights and responsibilities, and on enhancing quality of life. With regards to quality of life, the organization has developed many programs, including social recreation, member employment, bursaries, a theatre group, a computer club, and community kitchens. All were developed in response to members’ expressed needs.
We have also led new initiatives that further the rights of people with mental illness. We were among the founders of ARCH – A Legal Resource Centre for Persons with Disabilities, the Gerstein Centre, A-Way Courier Service, the Dream Team, the Silver Brush and the HomeComing Community Choice Coalition.