It is becoming increasingly obvious that the “Housing First” model is one of the most effective ways to end chronic homelessness today. Countries such as Canada and Australia have already embraced this schema, and they are witnessing incredible results. Rather than letting the most costly and vulnerable populations die on the streets, “Housing First’s” ideology dictates that those experiencing chronic homelessness should be permanently housed as swiftly as possible. Canada’s recent “At Home/Chez Soi” study clearly demonstrates the benefits of reliance upon permanent supportive housing. In the study, program developers placed half of the participants experiencing homelessness into transitional housing programs while the other half was placed in permanent supportive housing. Compared to the individuals who participated in a traditional transitional housing program, the researchers discovered that those people who were placed in permanent supportive housing were more likely to have remained in housing after one year. Further, those participants placed in permanent supportive housing reported that their emergency service consumption had decreased drastically. Lastly, and perhaps less tangibly, the “Housing First” participants reported a higher living satisfaction than their counterparts. The conclusions of this four year study completely derailed the previous notion that emphasis on sobriety and transition was the most effective way to assist populations experiencing chronic homelessness.
A handful of American locations have witnessed similarly awe-inspiring results by implementing “Housing First” policies. Utah is the most famous example. In 2005, an Utahan report revealed that the average person experiencing chronic homelessness cost the state over $20,000 in emergency service usage per year, where as to simply house that same person would cost taxpayers about $8,000 per year. Since turning to “Housing First,” chronic homelessness has dropped by 72% across the state. The city of Nashville has received very similar results and subsequent national attention. In Texas, Houston has quickly become the poster child of “Housing First,” making incredible strides toward transitioning the city’s most vulnerable citizens out of a state of cyclical homelessness in recent years. Popular media coverage of these model cases has only continued to inspire other communities to focus on increasing access to permanent supportive housing. All of this recent success has drummed up incredible excitement and momentum for the “Housing First” model and philosophy.
Providing the Support
However, in order to successfully expand the number of agencies implementing the policies of the “Housing First” model, homeless service organizations must understand the process holistically. Most importantly, it is critical that all interested agencies appreciate the challenges of this practice. While confident in the efficacy of this housing strategy, even the staunchest supporters of “Housing First” are very open about the difficulties in assisting populations that have previously lived in a state of chronic homelessness. The majority of this very vulnerable population experiences complications with drug addiction and/or mental health challenges. Similarly, the stresses of living on the street often make the transition to housing difficult for people who may have spent years without a roof over their head. These challenges ensure that “Housing First” programs should not consist of “housing only.” It is critical that supportive services be made readily available as soon as clients move into their new homes. Each client necessitates the attention of an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, ready to assist the client with any of his or her needs through intensive outreach and case management.
That being said, future housing cannot be made contingent upon participation in any addiction or psychiatric programs. Outside of fulfilling the traditional requirements of their lease, “Housing First” clients should have as much personal freedom in their decision making as any other renters. In order to execute a high-fidelity “Housing First” program, housing agencies need to create a philosophical divide between the housing and the social services. Dr. Sam Tsemberis, an early proponent of “Housing First” and the executive director of the non-profit “Pathways to Housing,” is adamant that respecting the consumer-driven nature of this program is a necessity for long-term success. Thus, for the clients uninterested in total sobriety, their choice must be fully respected. Rather than enforcing draconian rules from the top, the best ACT teams work with their clients to develop harm reductive practices in order to increase the chances of continual housing. Amazingly, even without the reliance on oppressive restrictions, most “Housing First” participants report a reduction of complications due to drug abuse and mental health challenges. Past studies have shown that housing stability is one of the most powerful catalysts for the populations who formerly experienced homelessness to address their physical ailments and addictions.
Further, having these support systems in place is not only important for assisting clients. Ready access to services also increases the chance of convincing public housing authorities and/or private landlords to provide space for individuals who have spent extended periods of time homeless. According to Jessica Preheim, a program manager with the Houston Housing Authority, landlords are often afraid that if a client has difficulties adjusting to permanent housing after transitioning from a state of homelessness the complex will be left without help. Landlords are often hesitant to offer affordable spaces to those people who have previously experienced chronic homelessness because they fear the possibilities of setbacks and personal liability. By preparing an ACT team before meeting with a landlord, an agency demonstrates how serious they are in providing the services necessary to keep their client in sustainable housing. Moreover, the agency must explain that if their client is evicted, agency representatives will help remove their client and will assist them in finding housing elsewhere. In many ways, ensuring that a client is supported by the program does not only increase the person’s chances of remaining safely in housing, it also increases the likelihood that a client can be placed in a rental property at all.
Too often, attention to the “Housing First” model has focused on the positive outcomes. Without a doubt, the successes of this program are quite astounding. When working at the highest fidelity, "Housing First" organizations routinely report that around 85% of clients remain in housing after one year of program participation. However, while focusing on permanent supportive housing rather than transitional and/or emergency housing has produced wondrous results, assisting people who have experienced chronic homelessness is never an easy task. Agencies must remember that actually moving their clients into housing is the easiest half of the program. The real, often frustrating work follows the housing placement, when the safety net of supportive services is set in place. Even after an ACT team is organized to assist a new client, services cannot be made mandatory requirement. Moreover, for some of the most challenging individuals, the first placement may not prove successful, and the housing organization will need to find a new location for their client. Still, if executed correctly, by allowing housed clients direct control over the direction of their services, these formerly marginalized people are delivered the tools for their own empowerment and self-improvement. “Housing first” presents a cost-effective model to end chronic homelessness that allows for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations to actively govern the shaping of their own lives.
Care Net Pregnancy Center to raise funds
Transitional housing for pregnant women and new mothers experiencing homelessness plans to break ground next year in Waco. Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central Texas is raising funds for a facility that will provide eight guest rooms for women and their children.
CPPP releases the 2013 State of Texas Children, Texas KIDS COUNT Annual Data Book. The KIDS COUNT Project is a national and state-by-state effort to track the well-being of children and provide data on more than 70 measures of child well-being and is a resource to help create, implement, and encourage good policy and effective services to better the lives of Texas children. View the book: www.forabettertexas.org/investinkids.html
Community First! Village
If you live in Austin, then you have probably heard about Community First! Village that promises to "radically transform and renew our community as the men and women living on the streets are lifted up into community and home."
In true Austin fashion, Community First! Village thinks outside of the box, in this case outside of the traditional box-shaped home. Take a look at the promotional video for more information. http://youtu.be/OFzY8VUn21g