Showing posts with label housing first. Show all posts
Showing posts with label housing first. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Homeless Terms To Know - Community Buy-in

The government, through HUD, is very interested in supporting communities that are adapting to the new ways of dealing with homelessness - that being Housing First, Rapid Rehousing, Continuum of Care, etc  But it insists that the community be involved in a supporting capacity.  HUD isn't going to handle our homelessness issues for us. Before any community can receive help form HUD, it must prove that they are embracing these new concepts.  The biggest part of the "buy-in" requires that local finances are being dedicated to the project.  Local Charities and financial institutions much show that they are supporting these efforts financially.  Only then will HUD step up and assist the community with support, mainly of the financial variety. HUD gauges it's financial support directly on how much the community is doing for itself.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Chronically Homeless And The Frequent User Fallacy

When the government first introduced the "Housing First" model for dealing with homelessness, it included a brand new definition for a type of homeless person, the "Chronically Homeless".  The basic idea was that by putting the chronically homeless into housing first programs, it would save communities a good deal of resources and money, which could then be used to help other homeless people.  This concept assumes that Chronically Homeless people are frequent users of community resources.  They are the homeless who are often arrested by the police, visit the hospital ER more than most people, etc.  (Being that they are homeless, they have no way of paying for those services so the community has to eat the costs.)

The problem is that many Chronically Homeless people are not "frequent users" of community resources.   Yes, those homeless people who do use an excessive amount of community services are undoubtedly chronically homeless.   But, the assumption that being chronically homeless equates to frequent user is a non sequitur.   The logic does not follow.

When a community considers which homeless people to put into their Housing First program, they aren't really looking for Chronically Homeless people, but are looking for the frequent users.   Because of this many Chronically Homeless people do not get the help they need to get off the streets.

So, be wary of a community that claims they are ending, or have ended, chronic homelessness.  Most likely they haven't gotten to everyone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Homeless Terms To Know - SRO

SRO stands for "Single Room Occupancy", sometimes called, "Single Resident Occupancy".  I have always used Single Resident Occupancy, as it made more sense as concerning homelessness and Housing First.  But it wasn't until I returned to San Diego and saw a true SRO, that I learned what an SRO truly is.

The concept for Single Room living spaces came about long ago (the 1800s) when Capitalists were exploiting the lack of housing codes.  (Read about Alonso Horton for more detail.)  Some of the oldest hotels in San Diego were built explicitly for construction workers who were hired to build the more palatial hotels and supply the building boon with cheap labor.  These hotels, built for construction workers, crammed as many people together as possible.  The single rooms were smaller than 10x10 feet square.  Toilets and showers were shared, one per floor.  Downtown San Diego saw many building boons and busts over the years, but there was plenty of room for expansion and so many RSO's were built - a couple dozen or more of these SRO hotels/boarding houses still exist, and charge relatively cheap rent (although the application process and standards are very strict, and residents are paying 60 to 75% of their income for rent).

Because SROs usually offer the least expensive rent, they are the first places that case managers contact when trying to place their clients.   In recent years, most of the SRO building has been contacting with HUD and other government agencies for subsidies in exchange for renting cheaply and for working with Section 8.

It should be noted that these SRO hotels and similar resident buildings were, and in some instances still are, the domain of slum lords.  But these slum lords are finding it more lucrative to partner with government organizations such as HUD, and HUD  requires their properties to meet strict housing codes, which is leading to improvements in these buildings.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Homeless Terms To Know - Housing First

"Housing First" (often referred to as "permanent supportive housing") is a program in which homeless people are given private quarters to live in, as the first step in their rehabilitation from homelessness.

The old school method of rehabilitating a homeless person back to a life of normalcy required that the homeless person first address and overcome all of his or her personal issues.  Then, as a reward for doing so, the homeless person would be given housing assistance.  It was expected that the homeless person first stop his addictions, deal with his mental health issues, and become gainfully employed for a period of time.

It was assumed that the issues of addictions and mental illness and unemployment, caused him to become unstable and lose his housing in the first place. But this is just not true - although most people believe it so.

Being that the majority of people with addictions and mental health issues never become homeless, it stands to reason that these are not the issues which cause homelessness.  In my estimation, these things are only symptoms of other issues that cause homelessness.

But, regardless of what actually causes homelessness, and despite the old school approach, it has been proven time and again that the best way to rehabilitate a homeless person is to first give him or her a home of their own.  (This housing does not have to be extensive.  In most cases, the homeless are given SROs - small, one room apartments.)  Having the stability that comes with a place of one's own, homeless people are much better equipped to address all the other issues in their lives - the addictions, the mental health issues, etc.  80% or more of the homeless who have participated in a "Housing First" program have remained housed.

(It is important to note that for "Housing First" to be effective, quality case management must also be assigned to the homeless to help them keep up with sobriety meetings, therapy sessions, employment, etc.)

The other benefit of "Housing First" is that the program saves communities a good deal of money.   "Housing First" is much less expensive than allowing the homeless to wander the streets and fend for themselves.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who Should Work Where? An Email Exchange

Dear Kevin,
Good morning. I thought I would write and introduce myself. I have been a fan of your blog for many years. Here in Columbus Ohio, I used to work in two different shelters and a supportive housing program for chronically homeless, mentally ill women. I have loved all of those jobs. Currently, I am unemployed and looking for work while going to school at OSU. I have had a terrible time finding work in my field because I never finished my degree.

You did a blog post a while back that had a tremendous impact on me and how I viewed my work. It was "A Day In The Life" and in it, you wrote about the resue mission. When I was hired as Director of Resident Services and Faith Mission here in Columbus, It was much like what you had described. I was fortunate to have an executive director who wanted to change the way the shelter operated and hired me to do it. I have been grateful to you ever since. We got rid of the security staff, created new positions called advocates who were assigned a case load of residents and were charged with the task of being their partners. Each advocate sat down one on one with their residents and co-created a plan for services. The number of residents who left the shelter for permanent housing tripled after that.

Sadly, I was laid off from there and shortly after, my former executive director resigned. The new director has re-instated the security staff and some of my former staff tell me things have gone back to the old ways.

I still believe that I was moving in the right direction. I had a vision of beginning a job training program to hire residents to work in the shelter. I think they would be far more sensitive to others and understanding of the obstacles than anyone else. So what do you think of homeless men and women working in the shelters?


Dear Mary,
Thank you very much for writing,
Letters like yours help me stay focused, reminding me that there is a bigger picture, and I am only a part of it.

There are people who are born and raised in the South, and they develop a very strong southern accent to the way they talk. But for whatever reason, they move away from the South, and after some time they lose the accent. Then they return home for a visit, and it takes almost no time for them to regain that Southern accent. And, there is a cliche' - "you can take the man out of the projects, but you can't take the projects out of the man." This is all preference to me saying that I think it's not a very good idea to have past homeless people become "case managers" as it were, to the currently homeless. It does sound like a good idea - I know that AA works that way, and perhaps for alcoholism it is effective.

But most people who used to be homeless, are usually living a life still very close to homelessness. Although they now have a home of their own, they are still living in abject poverty, bearly making it, and have many of the traits that make people suseptible to becoming homeless. At the Campus for Human Development, they require that a formerly homeless person be in a non-homeless state for at least 2 years, before returning to work there. Having the formerly homeless person back in the street environment makes them susceptable to becoming homeless again. More importantly - homeless people have to learn a completely new and different way of life (a new paradigm for life and living), and the best way to do that is to expose them, as much as possible, to the new and better way. It's like teaching a new language - total immersion works best. A homeless person with a case manager who continues to talk street, and has street mannerisms only inhibits growth in the new direction. Life on the streets is hard core, it is dog eat dog, (more literal than figurative), and so it requires one to be excessively selfish just to survive. And yes, the non-homeless people are also selfishness, but it is compartmentalized, (and more figurative than literal). The non-homeless person knows that civility is required to a certain degree, so to maintain the social framework in which to live. Most homeless people do not get that, or at least don't exercise it to the point necessary to maintaining an acceptable and functional place for themselves within the society.

What is needed are good and positive examples for the homeless to adapt. They need to be exposed to as much non-homelessness as possible. Som they would benefit most from case managers, security guards, chaplains, etc, who have never experienced homelessness. Also, non-homeless workers, who have been working with the homeless for a few years, will be effected by the homeless environment, and will lose their ability to reflect the non-homeless life on to the homeless. That is why I am so much in favor of term limits for non-homeless people working for homeless service providers.

Well, this email has grown long - I think I'll use it as a post on the blog. May I also use your letter to preface it? I will leave your name out if you so wish.

Again, thanks for writing,

Dear Kevin
Of course you can use my letter. and my name. I wrote you about that to get your opinion. I needed to know what it would take. I agree that a person needs to be immersed in non-homelessness in order to make it. You raise some very good points that I hadn't considered. I knew you would have a different perspective. I have been trying to figure out what it would take to end homelessness. If we were to return full funding for HUD housing, provide housing opportunites enough that no one would be with out a place to live, what would it take to assist someone to be able to remain in that housing and become stable again?

What kind of services are needed?


Dear Mary,
Because waiting lists for services are so long, service providers are tempted to tighten the restrictions placed on those receiving services. In many street rehab facilities, if a person relapses just once while in the program, he will be dropped from the program, and might never be allowed to return. That policy denies the reality the the average addict/alchoholic/street person will relapse many times before staying clean, and clear of trouble, long enough to leave homelessness. The goals are too high, the stress is too great. All such programs should impliment a more gradual approach - baby steps must be really small baby steps, and for a longer period than most service providers would expect. I know, budgets being as limited as they are tempts social workers to press their clients to achieve goals faster than they are ready to deal with. The best recourse would be to take on fewer clients at a time. And yes, I understand that organizations must make a good show - produce numbers that the grant givers expect - the grant givers expecations being very eskew of reality. It really is better to take on fewer clients at a time, and have a higher success rate, than to try to take on many clients, hoping that some how all their needs will be met.

For some service providers, if they had one hundred dollars, and one hundred clients, they would give each client one dollar. But it seems better to determine which clients would actually make good use of it, and select 10 clients to receive 10 dollars each. This applies to all services offered. It's the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Taking on 10 clients and putting all your energy into them, and having a percentage of them achieve success, is better than taking on 20 clients, and being able to only give half as much energy to them. More than likely you'll end up with fewer successes, not just in percentages.

In the Hud Housing First program, promoted by the, the 10% worst case homeless clients are said to consume the lion's share of services and resources available to all homeless people. So, they are instructing cities to develop Housing First programs to house those people. This would free up more services, for service providers to provide, for the rest of the homeless.

Sure, if we could get cities to do this, it would be great. But there is an obvious objection to it within city governments and the general population, and cities have been slow, if not dead in the water, concerning this development.

Personally, I think they should be applying this program from the opposite direction. They should be providing housing first options to the easiest to solve homeless cases first - not the worst. Single, unattached men are about 85% of the homeless population. It would take the least amount of services to rehabilitate their lives. So, focusing attention on that population of the homeless would drastically reduce the total number of homeless, in the shortest amount of time, and would free up as many resources for service providers, if not more, to be focused on the more difficult cases. Of course this is the opposite of the current paradigms, where women and their children come first - and single men come last - this really means that single men rarely if ever get the services they need. I imagine that if you rehabbed all the homeless men, you'd find the homeless women w/children population dropping, even without services directed at them, as these formerly homeless men will begin taking back the responsiblities of family.

Ok, well that took 40 minutes to write, so I'll stop for now - I really appreciate your questions.