Jino Distasio

Richardson College for the Environment


Dr. Jino Distasio, Director, Institute of Urban Studies, Associate Professor, Geography. Photo By DanHarperPhoto.Com

Helping House Canada’s Homeless

Dr. Jino Distasio is an Associate Professor of Geography and Director of the Institute of Urban Studies. He has been with UWinnipeg since 1999.

With $110 million dollars in funding, the At Home Chez Soi project is considered to be the world’s largest research effort to target homelessness and mental health. The project is focused on assessing whether a “Housing First” intervention presents an effective treatment for transitioning people off the streets and into stable housing with specialized supports. “This project is a massive  undertaking that brings service, housing and research together to  better understand how to help people get housing and supports,” said Dr. Jino Distasio, one of the Principal Investigators for Winnipeg.

The project’s mission is to house up to 1300 Canadians in Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.  Housing First is a unique approach that places an emphasis on rapid housing without any prerequisites followed by individualized supports. It began in New York City in 1992 when Pathways to Housing was launched. The Pathways model has been shown to be less expensive than traditional shelters that do not provide permanent housing and offer little in the way of supports.

In the Canadian demonstration project each of the five cities is delivering services and supports using a standard approach that is then tailored to each centre. In Winnipeg, some 300 persons will be transitioned into housing, with an additional 240 participants recruited to form a comparison group. Services and supports are being delivered in Winnipeg by a number of organizations that include Aboriginal Health and Wellness, the Mount Carmel Clinic, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, with support from a number of provincial departments.

The research team consists of The University of Winnipeg’s Institute of Urban Studies and the University of Manitoba’s Department of Psychiatry, Community Health Sciences and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy Research. Jino Distasio notes, “Our research team went from two people with an idea to nearly 30 committed and caring staff. Our interviewer team will conduct close to 5000 interviews over the four-year project.”

An important part of the project has been to build capacity and support in the community. Students, community members, and organizations are all working to build capacity to ensure that the work being done today is sustainable in the future. According to Distasio, “We want to continue to endorse a Housing First  approach. At the end of each day, we are becoming more aware about not only about the root causes of homelessness but the pathways out of homelessness and they type of programs and supports needed to make this happen. As well, we know that each person helped by the study has a unique story; the strength of a Housing First Approach is that services and supports are based on individual need.”

The project has just completed its first year and will run until 2013. To date, the research team has recruited 375 persons into the study.