In the mid-to-late 1970s, the “de-institutionalization” policy of the provincial government resulted in large numbers of psychiatric patients being discharged from hospitals. Many of those discharged from institutions were soon afterwards re-admitted due to limited available community services. An interdisciplinary staff team at Toronto’s Queen Street Mental Health Centre recognized that the quality of housing and mental health supports an individual had outside of the hospital were critical determinants in how successfully they managed in the community. Many of those discharged were limited in terms of funds and social support systems, and faced barriers such as unemployment, inadequate mental health support, limited access to health services and difficulties in managing daily chores. Consequently, the majority of client re-admissions to hospitals were attributed to these significant barriers that were encountered while adjusting to community living.
In response to this, Queen Street Mental Health Centre created a special ward for patients who were consistently being re-admitted. Ron Ballantyne, the Program Director at the time, was assigned to create a new program to address the range of supports required for patients to transition successfully back into community living. One of the first initiatives Ron created was a new out-patient program. He brought on a staff team of 30 social workers and nurses who worked 24/7 in 12 hour shifts to support discharged patients to transition to the community. In 1977, Ron rented a large house on Madison Avenue, paying for the first and last month’s rent. Together with John Trainor and other Queen Street Mental Health Centre staff and volunteers they established the first Mental Health Supportive Housing program in Toronto. 10 patients from Queen Street Mental Health Centre were discharged and moved into their new home on Madison Avenue. Based on a cooperative model, the residents of the home shared responsibility for all aspects of household management with assistance from each other and from staff and volunteers from Queen Street. Residents developed skills and confidence in managing their household. Peer relationships were fostered through the joint management of responsibilities. This was the beginning of the Mental Health Supportive Housing sector in Toronto.
In the over 44 years since Madison began its Supportive Housing Program with one house, Madison Community Services has continued to build on the vision and commitment of its founders. We have grown to be a multi-service mental health agency which maintains a ‘family-like’ environment for our clients.