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Home on the Hill is the epitome of supportive housing in Richmond Hill

6,000 to 9,000 people living in Richmond Hill with serious mental illnesses
Aug. 23, 2021
Yoyo Yan

"The need for supportive housing is urgent," Kathy Mochnacki told Richmond Hill council.

Mochnacki is the chair of the Home on the Hill supportive housing project, a non-profit group that was developed 10 years ago by families of people affected by serious mental illness.

There are approximately 6,000 to 9,000 people living in Richmond Hill with serious mental illnesses, many of whom live with aging parents.

After their parents die, it's unknown what will happen to them. "It is most parent's nightmare," said Mochnacki, who has a son with mental disorders.

Home on the Hill has a small housing program administered by Maggie Veltheer, offering five supportive housing beds. It takes place in the former manse of the Richmond Hill United Church and a community hub overseen by the Region of York.

Deinstitutionalization of those with serious mental illness happened decades ago as our institutions were emptied. But measures to support these former residents in the community failed as many ended up on the streets, in homeless shelters, or in prisons.

The luckier ones managed to be housed in organizations like Homes for Special Care. Many of these residences can be found north in Newmarket and up to Georgina, "and in the surrounding country where they are out of sight, out of mind," said Mochnacki.

Mochnacki's son Tim was in one of these residences. He lived together with 19 other residents with very little to do each day.

"Deinstitutionalization simply resulted in the reinstitutionalization of many of our loved ones in such homes, which are referred to as custodial housing," said Mochnacki.

Supportive housing, on the other hand, offers the tenants rehabilitative activities like art, exercise, recreation and sports.

"We have an excellent cooking class, which I believe is essential for clients to learn cost-effectiveness budgeting, and how to properly cook healthy meals," said Tim, who is now a Home on the Hill client.

Mochnacki says Home on the Hill recommends that some supportive housing units be planned close to recreation centres, which could offer opportunities for recreation.

Home on the Hill helps tenants build relationships with one another. This shared sense of total acceptance of others is transformative and is the most healing aspect of any supportive housing program.

"My son is now the beneficiary of our supportive housing program, and he is thriving," said Mochnacki. "He lives in the same community that I live in, and being close to his family helps with housing stability."

She says supportive housing saves money too. The cost of psychiatric hospitalization is $486 per day while the cost of supportive housing is $72 a day, according to Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario.

"We save the taxpayer money as our tenants experience wellness and the need for expensive emergency services and hospitalization is reduced."

Home on the Hill tenants are also involved in small money earning ventures like gardening and pet care.

"Homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7 billion per year. Let us reverse this trend right here in Richmond Hill. The affordable housing strategy is a tool to do this. It offers so much hope for our families," said Mochnacki.

In the city's Affordable Housing Strategy draft, one of the goals states to "attract new accessible and supportive housing options to Richmond Hill that are suitable for seniors and households with a member with a disability or mental health issue by establishing partnerships and collaborating with stakeholders."

However, council failed to endorse the strategy at its July 7 meeting.

"The fact that 50 percent of councillors did vote for the strategy is encouraging. I am disappointed that the motion failed as it represented an opportunity for helpful dialogue for the development of supportive housing for those with mental illness," commented Mochnacki.

"As families, we will continue to fight for adequate housing for our kids. We will not be deterred."