Discharge planning services should be provided to support people leaving any type of institution, particularly, but not only after a long stay. This can include jail or other corrections facilities, hospitals, addiction treatment facilities, child welfare facilities, or mental health programs. Support in transition even from shelters to housing is key for people who have experienced long-term homelessness or for Aboriginal peoples moving from a reserve to an urban area.
Discharge planning includes preparing someone to live independently or with certain supports in a non-institutional setting. For someone who has become ‘institutionalized’ after a long period of residential living they may be unprepared to cope with the independence they now face. They also need supports to develop their post-institutional plan including housing options, medical/psychiatric supports, counselling, identification, financial assistance/employment, education, etc.
Discharge planning is not always embedded into programs and institutions or it may come too late in the process to be useful for someone with high needs. In Ontario for example, approximately 2/3s of provincial inmates are currently on remand. This means they are incarcerated without being convicted (pre-trial custody). These individuals may be released directly from court if their charges are dismissed, or if they are convicted but credited with ‘time served’. As a result, they are ineligible for any type of discharge planning services as these are provided to inmates only post-conviction. Many people are released directly from jail/court to the streets/shelters without a fixed address.
For people facing multiple issues (i.e. poverty and mental health or addictions issues) there is a need to start discharge planning as early as possible. If someone without a fixed address is hospitalized for a month or two for surgery/recovery/rehabilitation the search for housing and income supports should start at the beginning of their hospitalization, not at the end (which is when discharge planning commonly occurs).
Unfortunately, discharge programs are very inconsistent across the country and non-existent in some regions. There may be a list of support services, rehabilitation programs and self-help groups available at the hospital but there are usually long waiting lists for supportive housing such as group homes, a boarding house, an apartment, a room, or shared accommodations.