As we sit in Panera in the middle of Ohio and review our tape from DC and prepare for interviews in Chicago, we figured some of you might want to know more about Housing First and our research.
The basic understanding of the Housing First approach is that it provides the most vulnerable of the homeless population with housing without requiring prior treatment. However, as this initiative is still evolving, there also isn't a single definition of Housing First. Some programs specifically target single mothers with children, others house individuals dealing with alcohol abuse, others house a more heterogeneous population, and different projects have different levels and types of services which complement the housing.
We are fundraising for Charlotte's first Housing First project, Moore Place, which is a supportive housing project for the chronically homeless - so it's not your typical shelter model. Moore Place will have 85 apartments, on-site case management and 24-hour security. The idea is that housing those most vulnerable is a more stable, sustainable solution than expecting them to eventually transition from an emergency shelter to real housing. For the most vulnerable who have real barriers to self-sufficiency, making this leap while living on the streets is next to impossible.
There are several angles one can take in advocating for Housing First - one can view housing as a human right which must be protected and fulfilled, or one can make the economic argument that housing for the chronically homeless actually saves the city money, on aggregate, that isn't spent on emergency services like hospital and jail visits (Moore Place is expected to save Charlotte $2 million in its first year alone), and finally, one can't deny the practical, nothing-else-has-really-worked evidence from decades of observing housing strategies across the country.
Various pilot programs across the country have experimented with Housing First models and have found success in effectively housing the homeless. Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) in Seattle sought to implement Housing First principles into a housing development of 25 apartments in 1997. Based on the success of this model, they expanded it in 2005 by creating 1811 Eastlake, which provides supportive housing for 75 men and women living with chronic alcohol addictions. 24/7 services include health care services, case management, and mental health/chemical dependency treatment. A 2009 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that this model saved taxpayers $4 million in one year. The longer they had been housed, the greater the reductions in cost of services as well as the greater the reduction of alcoholism. Other cities have launched similar projects; a Housing First program in Portland led to a 70 percent drop in the city's chronic homeless population when augmented with outreach staff and support services. Moore Place in Charlotte is modeled after these successful Housing First projects.
It's a controversial idea - Robert Egger observes that those who object say, "It's crazy. You're putting a crack addict in an apartment." As he goes on to point out, however, all innovative ideas run against the grain of societal expectations and take time to be accepted as alternative solutions to the present problem. The present reality, in this case, is one where tens of thousands sleep outside night after night and without the stability provided by housing are unable to find and maintain work, medicate serious mental illness, or address drug addiction. Once people have a stable roof over their heads, it is arguably easier to then treat mental illness or addiction.
The fact that Moore Place is on track to have raised it's needed $10 million by the groundbreaking date later this year - in a recession, all leveraged from private donors - is remarkable, but not an end in itself. As a pilot program, its success will allow for other Housing First models to be built in Charlotte with federal, state, and municipal grants. The funding aspect is something we hope to explore with one of our interviews in Chicago with Denis Pierce, founder and board president of the Pierce Foundation, about their experience in supporting Housing First initiatives and their evaluation mechanisms to determine the success and continued support of various housing projects. We will also be talking with the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Housing Action Illinois in addition to our service at Good News Partners, where we will be working with kids who live in transitional housing.
We would love to hear your thoughts, opinions and suggestions as we prepare for our upcoming interviews in Chicago! Feel free to comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
children of the corn,