person holding a cardboard with a drawing of a house

Supporting people in rooming houses

Mental Health & Housing


People living in rooming houses, shelters or other types of vulnerable housing live 7-10 years fewer than the general Canadian population. Many rooming house tenants have complex under-supported needs that threaten their housing stability and overall wellbeing. For example, more than 50% of those living in a rooming house report being diagnosed with a mental health condition. Some of the common physical ailments reported by tenants include arthritis and joint problems, hepatitis B and C, asthma, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and mobility issues. Yet, despite having a greater need than most, they face significant barriers accessing health care. Almost 40% of people vulnerably housed cannot access the health care they need, when they need it. Without easy access to primary care, people tend to rely on more costly alternatives such as emergency departments and hospitals or worse they forgo care altogether. Safe, stable and adequate housing is a precursor to health. We all benefit – individuals, taxpayers, communities – when people are adequately housed.

The Rooming House Project aims to promote housing stabilization and improve health and wellbeing of rooming house tenants in Cabbagetown (a central neighbourhood in downtown Toronto). 

The objectives of this project are to:

  • assess tenant social and health services needs;

  • mobilize communities around rooming houses to support stronger community connection; and, 

  • develop a tenant-driven action plan to prioritize and tailor opportunities to intervene and better support housing stability and overall wellness.

The program mobilizes community engagement strategies and one-on-one case management to achieve tenant health and wellness goals, and healthy relationships between tenants and the broader community. 

This is a multi-year project championed by Dixon Hall, Ecuhome, and Homes First Society supported by the City of Toronto and Toronto Community Housing. 

Health Commons Solutions Lab is proud to partner with these organizations and contribute to its success. We are responsible for completing the following research to support the project’s objectives:

  1. Community Ethnography to know, map and share local resources available to tenants in support of their wellbeing. Through this work, we are gaining a better understanding of the community’s perceptions of rooming houses and the people who live in them.

  2. Tenant Ethnology to dive deep into the lived experience of rooming house occupancy and navigating the surrounding neighbourhood from the tenant perspective.

As evidenced by these tools, mapping local community resources is a big undertaking. A diverse range of resources, services and elements need to be considered when describing neighbourhoods.  

Through our work, we have had the privilege of talking to community business owners and staff, service providers, community residents/non-residents, people experiencing homelessness, the Business Improvement Association (BIA), local police, TTC staff, and other community members.

All of these groups have informed the development of the following products:

  1. An asset map of health and social services, and food and housing supports for staff to help tenants make the most of the varied and targeted services in the neighbourhood as per individual needs.

  2. Tenants will also receive this information in the form of a Tenant Community Resource Booklet.

  3. A poster of community ethnography learnings that communicates the process and results of gathering information from the community about the community in which the rooming houses are located.

Resource: Community Ethnography

Resource: Community Ethnography

As the project progresses, additional tools and resources will be created. Be sure to check back in periodically for the latest and greatest!

Having access to stable and safe housing is fundamental to health and well-being. Rooming houses play an important role in providing affordable housing. They house some of our most vulnerable. Tailored supports are needed to help tenants address their physical and mental challenges, and lead their best lives. The lessons learned from this project could be adopted, adapted and applied across Ontario to support all rooming house tenants who need support.  Check out the work – reach out if you have questions.