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DECEMBER 2013 Inside research file Transforming housing for those with mental illness Geoff Nelson researches the long-term impact Housing First programs have on the disadvantaged By Elin Edwards As our Canadian winter days get colder and darker, “going home” means warmth, light, comfort and safety. In any given year, however, about 300,000 Canadians experience homelessness. Add mental illness, addictions, chronic health problems or disabilities to being homeless, and the impact on the most disadvantaged members of society is staggering. For more than 30 years, Psychology Professor Geoff Nelson has focused his research on finding practical, evidence-based solutions through community partnerships. For the past five years, Nelson has been part of a national qualitative research team for the At Home/Chez Soi project, based on the Housing First approach to homelessness and mental illness. The largest research program of its kind in the world, the investigation, funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, involves more than 2,200 participants and 100 researchers in five cities. In a society filled with a mishmash of social programs the long run is more effective in keeping those in need off the streets and out of more expensive care. The results of the Housing First/Chez Soi project, which was completed in March 2013, are being analyzed and so far are positive. The interactive National Film Board documentary, At Home (, suggests university, community, and government partners across Canada were awarded a $586,000 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Partnerships for Health System Improvement (PHSI) grant. “It’s all about scaling up Housing First across Canada,” said Nelson. A logical next step, the three-year grant is entitled “ With so many initiatives going on, if we can bring them together, we will have an even greater impact. ” and approaches, from volunteer shelters to subsidized group homes, Housing First is based on the simple notion that giving people a home first, rather than insisting on pre-conditions of sobriety, clinical treatment, rehab or therapy, not only treats them with more dignity, but in the results have many positive “Transforming Treatment Services outcomes, and asks the question and Housing for People with “Will this lead to its widespread Mental Illness in Canada: A adoption across Canada in 2013 Systems Approach to Integrated and beyond? The story is still Knowledge Translation.” Armed unfolding.” with a practical implementation plan, Nelson will lead researchers Nelson is now playing an even larger part in that unfolding story. and practitioners working with six or seven sites across Canada In June 2013, Nelson and his new to the Housing First model, helping to establish and then evaluate their programs. A national Housing First Community-of-Practice is one of the basic components of the PHSI grant. This community includes advocates, leaders in the fields of homelessness and mental health, researchers, people with lived experience and the new participant communities. This group of people with shared interests and experience will come together to help each other. “From the time we first applied for this grant, the landscape has changed in Canada, with more of a push for Housing First happening now,” said Nelson. One encouraging piece of the new program is increased resources for consultation, one of the mechanisms for sharing knowledge about Housing First programs with new participant communities. Another key piece is increased sources of funding for Housing First in the federal budget, including the renewal of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS). Ten Canadian communities, which overlap with the PHSI project partners, will devote at least 65 per cent of their HPS funding to Housing First. An important resource for the Community-of-Practice will be the toolkit Nelson developed with the At Home/Chez Soi project. The Mental Health Commission has provided extra funding for a broader Canadian Housing First Toolkit, which Nelson and his collaborators hope to have finished by March 2014. The Canadian Housing First Toolkit will take their research and make it practical and usable for community members, presented in friendly, clear and plain language. Encouraged by the “alignment of forces” in community and agency response to Housing First, Nelson sees the potential of the project growing even larger. “With so many initiatives going on, if we can bring them together, we will have an even bigger impact.” Geoff Nelson The less you know, the more you share By Sandra Muir When it comes to planning trips, buying products online, or deciding where to dine, people often rely on the opinions of others to help with purchase decisions. But new Wilfrid Laurier University research suggests that word-of-mouth recommendations may be less altruistic than people think. Word-of-mouth recommendations are typically considered trustworthy because they don’t come from a source with a profit motive, such as advertisers or salespeople. However, a study by Grant Packard, an assistant professor of marketing in Laurier’s School of Business & Economics, suggests there may be a different cause for concern when it comes to using this source of product information. “Surprisingly, we found that people who feel deficient in their product knowledge are particularly motivated to share their opinions about products with others,” said Packard. “They do this to compensate for their perceived knowledge deficiency; in short, talking about products suggests you have something useful to say about them.“ Packard co-authored the research with David Wooten, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Across four experiments, they found that individuals who believed their actual product knowledge fell short of their ideals were more, rather than less, motivated to write online product reviews. They also intended to share their product reviews with more people via email. “What was most surprising was that people who were satisfied with their high levels of expertise about products wrote significantly fewer reviews than those who believed they lack sufficient knowledge about the same products,” said Packard. How can you tell if a friend or online reviewer is trying to compensate for their lack of product knowledge? In one of the authors’ experiments, participants Grant Packard were asked to write a movie review. Those who believed their movie knowledge was insufficient talked more about themselves and spent more time sharing their opinion. They were also less likely to be critical about the movie. “They’re more positive about the product because choosing and using a great product reflects back on them as being a smart consumer,” says Packard. Packard says the research demonstrates dejection as the psychological state underlying the effect. People are not purposely sharing their “lessthan-ideal” knowledge to be malicious, but rather to make themselves feel better because they are disappointed about not being as knowledgeable a consumer as they wish they were. “Our findings show that the growing use of and trust in word-of-mouth, such as through online consumer reviews, should be tempered by the possibility that self-interest may be motivating the source,” he said. 7

December 2013 InsideLaurier

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