Research shows that the best way to help someone who is homeless is to provide housing – as quickly as possible. The longer someone is homeless, the more that person loses. They lose connection with their families, friends and community, they lose their physical and mental health, and they lose all or nearly all of their worldly possessions. The longer someone is homeless, the more difficult it is for that person to regain long-term stability.
Housing First is based on the premise that stable housing is a basic need that must be met before a person can begin to address other problems that are impacting them. Housing First means that we do not require program participants to be able to pay for their own housing, overcome health or substance use issues, or pass screenings related to criminal backgrounds or evictions before signing a lease. Rather, we provide housing as soon as possible and wrap the participant in the supportive services needed to overcome their challenges for as long as those services are needed.
Some people feel that Housing First means we are providing too much to people who do not deserve it. However, the costs of Housing First to communities have proven to be far less than the costs of more transitional approaches to service that require behavioral changes before housing will be provided. Further, Housing First has proven to be dramatically less expensive than doing nothing at all – when we do nothing to divert or address homelessness early on, individuals who might have recovered instead become chronically homeless, which can then lead to expensive use of emergency rooms, hospitalization, imprisonment, and police involvement.
You can read more about Housing First approaches to ending homelessness on the website of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
HOUSING FIRST AT CONNECTIONS
Several of Connections’ programs take a “Housing First” approach, in part or in full:
- Our supportive housing programs are designed for families and individuals with disabilities who would not normally be able to afford housing at market rate. Many of the heads of these households cannot work because of a disability, and as result they don’t have enough income or have other barriers that mainstream landlords use to screen them out of their housing stock. These barriers include not only health issues directly related to their disabilities but also histories of evictions, unemployment, substance use, arrests, and imprisonment. Once housed, residents in these programs typically improve their health, reduce substance use, repair their credit, increase personal connections to family and the community, stay out of the emergency room, and remain off the streets, often in perpetuity.
- Our Re-Housing Program makes use of “rapid re-housing” funding (when available) from the City of Evanston, Cook County, and from the State of Illinois to help homeless or near-homeless people secure market rate apartments. When someone is homeless and working but starting from scratch with no savings, it is nearly impossible to save the money needed to pay for a security deposit and first month’s rent. Our programming provides assistance to cover these costs, without requiring the participant to give up other necessities or remain homeless while trying to save money. Often this is all the help a household needs to move from short-term homelessness to long-term housing stability.
- Connections’ Our House program helps homeless young men, ages 18-24, who need housing but do not yet have the resources to manage or pay for living in their own apartments. In our program, they chart out career paths and learn life skills that will help them transition into an adulthood that includes self-sufficiency and independent housing stability.
Of Connections’ programs, our supportive housing programs are the most stably funded because HUD (the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development) sees supportive housing as a priority. However, even with this relatively consistent funding, we are able to provide housing for only about 45 households. There is still not enough to go around for everyone who needs it.
The unfortunate reality is that, while Housing First is a best practice, there just isn’t enough housing that is affordable in our community, nor is there enough money available to pay for the housing that does exist. Demand far exceeds supply in this case, which means we are simply unable to house all of the homeless people in our community. Next week, I will talk about our struggle to address the overwhelming need of the community when best practices just aren’t enough.