Monday, October 27, 2008

Housing First

This concept is terrific but, at first glance, counter-intuitive.

When I first heard about it I thought, “What a dumb idea!”, but once I read more about it and thought about it in terms of the simple psychological equation of the Maslow hierarchy of needs—that until a human being has basic physical security it is impossible to begin addressing the higher issues of personal growth— it became obvious why it works.

However, the congregate choice—where many chronic homeless are crammed together in converted hotels or build-to-site structures, as Sacramento has mostly chosen—has proven much less successful than the leasing approach—where apartments are leased around the region—as the congregate approach tends to continue the issues leading to homelessness rather than reducing them as well as the scattered-site method.

In a recent evaluation of three programs, one of which was a program in New York which uses the scattered-site approach and two projects, one in Seattle and one in San Diego, both of whom use the congregate approach; it was found that the
scattered-site approach used by New York was significantly more successful in keeping the chronic homeless in housing for a continuous 12 month period; coming in at 62%, while the Seattle program came in at 40% and San Diego at 28%.

The preference for the scattered-site approach was written about in an ARPPS Commentary published in the Sacramento Bee April 10, 2008 and posted to our website news page May 12th.

That being said, we pray the effort continues with the success it has shown so far, and I am working with the group to help in that regard.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“The "housing first" strategy is a departure from traditional approaches, which require homeless people to be "clean and sober" to retain housing. In Sacramento and across the country, the strategy has proved effective in keeping formerly chronically homeless people off the streets and out of jails and emergency rooms.

"It solves the root causes of homelessness," said Tim Brown, leader of a city and county panel working on a plan to end chronic homelessness. "It offers people affordable, permanent housing, along with the help they need to retain it and improve their lives."

“Surveys suggest that more than 2,500 homeless people live in Sacramento, about 700 of whom have been on the streets for a year or more.

“More than 200 of those previously "chronically homeless" people have been placed in permanent housing in Sacramento so far, Brown said. Most live in single-family homes or small complexes, and more than 80 percent of them have stayed in those residences for at least six months.”

An excerpt from the companion article in the Bee about the national strategy.

“WASHINGTON-On a cold January morning in 2001,Mel Martinez, who was then the new secretary of housing and urban development, was headed to his office in his limo when he saw some homeless people huddled on the vents of the steam tunnels that heat federal buildings.

"Somebody ought to do something for them," Martinez said he told himself. "And it dawned on me at that moment that it was me."

“So began the Bush administration's radical, liberal and successful national campaign against chronic homelessness. Sacramento - led by the incoming state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, a former assemblyman - was among the first cities in the country to buy into the administration's approach. Today, the concept is at the heart of the capital city's 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.

"Housing first," the federal program is called. That's to distinguish it from traditional programs that require longtime street people to undergo months of treatment and counseling before they're deemed "housing ready." Instead, the Bush administration offers them rent-free apartments up front.

“New residents, if they choose, can start turning their lives around with the help of substance abuse counselors, social workers, nurse practitioners, part-time psychiatrists and employment counselors.

“However, residents are referred to as "consumers," and the choice is theirs.

“The help is so good and the deal's so sweet that roughly four out of five chronically homeless Americans who get immediate housing stay off the streets for two years or longer, according to the program's evaluators. In Britain, which has used the approach for a decade, the so-called "rough sleeper" population declined by about two-thirds.

“The "housing first" strategy gets much of the credit for a 30 percent decline in U.S. chronic homelessness from 2005 to 2007. The number fell from 176,000 to 124,000 people, according to the best available census of street people.”