Housing, Homelessness and Poverty

Caring Minds (Grades 7-12) > Housing, Homelessness and Poverty

Unit III Housing, Homelessness and Poverty

People whose lives have been shaped by struggles with mental well-being tell us that safe, affordable housing is fundamental to building a better situation. But finding and keeping a home is often difficult in Canada today, and many of the homeless that we see on our streets are also dealing with mental health issues.

Here, we draw on both social history and contemporary interpretations to pose some complex questions about homelessness, housing, and mental health: Why are people with mental health issues particularly vulnerable to ending up in inferior housing and homeless? Should safe, affordable housing be considered a fundamental human right? What is the relationship between getting a job and having a home? What is the difference between a place to sleep and a home? Have positive housing options have emerged since mental health treatment shifted from institution to community, and why were they successful?


By the end of this lesson students will be able to:

  • Understand how the historical process of deinstitutionalization is linked to housing, poverty and homelessness
  • Discuss the relationship between mental health, poverty, and homelessness
  • Identify the contributing factors for poverty and homelessness for people with mental illness
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the impact of sleep on mental health
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the impact of poverty and homelessness on finding a job
  • Identify support strategies to help people dealing with mental health difficulties, housing issues, and poverty

Background Information for Teachers

In the past, many people considered mentally ill lived for long periods (even their whole lives) in large institutions. Across Canada, between 1960 and 1990, waves of deinstitutionalization shifted patients into the community. Former patients found homes in boarding houses run for profit and hostels were created to meet short-term housing needs. In some places patient-run houses offered independence and security. But, psychiatric survivors argue, housing has remained inadequate for many and is closely linked to joblessness and homelessness.

Like other Canadians, our youth confront issues of homelessness and mental health as they move through the streets and public spaces of their communities. Some youth romanticize homelessness, while others have little understanding of the complex links between employment, mental health, and a healthy place to live.

This unit introduces housing as a major issue facing psychiatric survivors and consumers, encouraging learners to read and reflect on experiences of mental illness and the quest for safe, affordable housing from the perspective of those who have experienced it. It links housing to human rights and shows how patient activists have worked together to bring about positive change on this important social issue.

Curricular Planning

Potential Areas of British Columbia’s School Curricula Covered by this Unit
Health & Career Education
8 and 9
Civic Studies
Housing/Liv Env Family Studies
10 to 12
Social Justice
Potential Areas of Ontario’s School Curricula Covered by this Unit
Living Spaces Family Studies
Introductory Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology
Challenge & Change Social Studies