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Ottawa Salus’ pioneering role in bringing supportive housing to Ontario

Ottawa Salus rehabilitation worker Debbie and client Romeo.
Debbie, Ottawa Salus rehabilitation worker, with Romeo, Ottawa Salus client

In 1977, a group of visionary founders, including Dr. Alistair Catterson, a local psychiatrist, and Jackie Holzman, former mayor of Ottawa, were propelled to form Ottawa Salus from the urgent need to support people transitioning from mental health facilities and hospitals to living in the community.  

Their dream materialized in 1979 with the acquisition of a shared living home on Cooper Street – a pioneering initiative, marking Ontario’s first supportive housing building for adults with mental health and substance use health challenges. Over 45 years later, Salus remains a cornerstone of supportive housing, with their model adopted across Ontario.  

Salus now has 14 buildings, two condos and serves 900 clients per year. While independent living is their primary focus, Cooper remains part of their portfolio as some tenants prefer a communal style of living. One of these tenants is Romeo – a long-time Salus tenant and gifted writer who brightens the days of Salus staff and clients with his heartfelt poetry. 

Romeo finds hope and home at Salus’ first supportive housing building 

Initially apprehensive about moving to Salus three decades ago, Romeo’s feelings of nervousness were eased when two Salus staff reassured him, “We’ll be there for you.”

Taking a leap of faith, Romeo engaged in Salus’ programs, participating in sports and regular walks with the recreation team, effectively managing his anxiety and finding a positive direction. He became a dedicated volunteer, earning recognition from his peers and receiving multiple volunteer awards from Salus – something he looks back at fondly. 

Over the last decade at Cooper, Romeo has cherished the sense of community, shared responsibilities, and group outings with fellow tenants. He particularly appreciates Debbie, the rehabilitation worker at Cooper, for her caring and supportive role in his journey.

Reflecting on his time with Salus, Romeo expresses gratitude, saying, “Getting connected with Salus has been a gift. I’m so glad to be part of it—they’ve truly made a difference in my life.” 

Ageing in the right place for Romeo and other Salus clients  

As Romeo marks his 65th birthday, his needs, like those of many ageing Salus clients, are evolving.   

Salus has responded by creating supportive housing tailored to ageing in place, ensuring clients can stay in their homes as their mobility declines. 

“After 45 years, like our founders, Salus is focused on listening to understand what each person needs to thrive independently.” shared Mark MacAulay, President & CEO of Salus. This active listening, whether from clients, staff, or community partners, opens the door for creative and collaborative cost-effective solutions. 

In late 2023, Salus broke ground on Canada’s first supportive housing building for older adults with a history of mental health and substance use health challenges. While accessible to persons 65 and older, it is also available for adults who experience premature aging. 

Salus remains committed to innovation, collaborating with community partners to reshape the supportive housing landscape. Their goal to double capacity by 2030 reflects their unwavering dedication to meeting clients’ needs today and well into the future.   

To learn more, visit or sign up to receive Salus’ quarterly e-newsletter.   

“From early years at Fisher things seemed right.  

This group home in Centretown changed my life.  

Our rehabilitation worker cares a lot for each resident.  

We are fortunate she works here – Debbie is excellent.”  

– excerpt from “Welcome to Cooper”, a poem by Romeo