March 20, 2020 - Fourteen years ago when I built my first home in Welland, Ontario, I was able to house four so-called “unhousable” residents who had fallen through the cracks in the health care system, with critics trying to convince me that what I was doing was not “worth it” and not possible. Since then I have not looked back and have housed hundreds of Ontario’s vulnerable mental health population. With the commitment of starting up more homes in the months and years to come to alleviate pressure from the system, offer a solution to the homeless crisis and provide the highest standard mental health housing and services.

I built my company on the housing first concept years ago and was one of the first to introduce it in Ontario on a large scale basis. As I grew my company through the acquisition of other care homes, I constantly came across the issue of inconsistent standards within the homes that I acquired. I have encountered homes where the previous owner’s hearts were in the right place but their definition of a high standard was not high at all. I have encountered homes where residents were living in sub-standard conditions from a standpoint of safety, health conditions and lack of adequate supports. As a result, I have worked hard to operationally upgrade each of the homes that I have acquired along the way to acceptable standards to protect the wellbeing of the residents of these homes. This has been a process and I have been learning as I go, determined to get better with each day.

For years, I have been voicing the need to address the lack of standards and the absence of oversight and funding for most supportive housing operators in Ontario and I applaud NDP MPP Jeff Burch’s Private Members Bill in his bid to regulate supportive living homes. The operations of SupportiveLiving.ca have corporate oversight and a management team who rigorously holds all operations to a high standard through its countless policies and best practice standards within its homes. But there are still many homes in Ontario that actually need the help and guidance from a legislative body in order to improve for their residents. SupportiveLiving.ca prides itself in providing the highest standard of support to its residents.

This all being said, all homes across Ontario do have mandatory inspections from public health departments, ensuring that food premises and living environments are up to standard as well as fire department inspections. Where the industry is lacking is that there is not a consistent “best practices” guidance document that blankets all homes across Ontario. Definitions of “care” are quite subjective and greatly vary throughout the industry in addition to every operator offering different “care” related services. A standardization across Ontario would help define where we stop and the health care system starts as well as educate the public as to what services supportive housing residences do and do-not provide.

When I started the company, I spent the first five years explaining to the public what “Supportive Living” actually is. Before us, similar homes were called domiciliary hostels, care homes, second-level lodging and adult living centers. Today, I am proud to say that “supportive living” is an industry term in Ontario with many municipalities even introducing “Supportive Living” zoning classifications. I am even prouder of the fact that the proposed legislation carries a name that we pioneered.

As this Bill progresses through its various stages of readings and debate, we will be providing our input to the legislators through its process in an effort to provide our feedback as subject matter experts in the field of mental health housing.

Post-Covid19, I anticipate there being a tsunami of new mental health diagnosis further compounding the homelessness and addictions crisis across Ontario. More than ever, standardization of supportive living homes across Ontario is needed.

Written by Vishal Chityal, CEO, President and Founder, SupportiveLiving.ca