Friday, October 16, 2015

Is Your City TRULY using Housing First?

How do you know whether or not your city is using the "Housing First" approach to ending homelessness?

Pam "You're a Jerk!"

Sam: "You know Pam, it's more helpful for me if you avoid 'You' statements and try to use 'I feel' statements.  It's a better communication model."

Pam "I feel you're a Jerk!"

And so goes the false "I feel" statement.  A clever communicator will spot the hidden "you" in the second quote, but on the surface, it appears to follow the model.

So it is with the Housing First Model: a community can create a Housing First program, but if the housing context is merit-based, the homeless person still has to jump through hoops to get to that program.
The advantage of the Housing First approach used by Tsemberis is that the homeless do not have to meet criteria to be housed.  The communities that have used his model simply acknowledge that it costs more to service homelessness than it does to offer supportive housing. They basically hand the keys over and ask what supports are needed to help this newly-housed person live in harmony.  I see it as a courageous move, to step up to the plate and make the commitment to help someone who needs it.
Yet screening forms permeate this network of non-profits and housing agencies, who all state they are interested in Housing First. In fact, many non-profits in my city are currently claiming "housing first" status, while endorsing the "Centralized Access to Supportive Housing" (CASH) program, which screens every single applicant for nearly every single supportive housing unit in the city. This scrutiny involves health care diagnosis details, criminal record checks, and requires the applicant to have "proper supports in place" before being offered a suite.  The applications are then taken to a panel of housing providers, who will be the future landlords of the applicant.  The whole process is the opposite of Housing First as described by Tsemberis.

I will not single out any non-profit, because it seems all I ever do as an advocate is help people get through screening and eligibility requirements.  Financial matters, legal matters, housing matters, shelter, detox, treatment-- everybody has their little form to fill out.

If a community hopes to employ a Housing First model, it needs to apply the model to as many related services as possible.  Housing First simply says, give the keys to the person on the street, and then support them as they try to stabilize their life.  It almost seems too easy, but I beg you to look at the results of Tsemberis' efforts around the continent, they are nothing short of amazing.

Communities need to think about how things look from the street.  People may say "those people could get housing/employment/treatment if they wanted it" but are they aware if the actual steps involved? As a case manager, I spent sometimes 9 months on one persons' file trying to get through the application process for addictions treatment! Now considering the fact that some supportive housing has the requirement of completing addiction treatment PRIOR to applying, (and once you are on the list for housing, it might be a year before you get a place) you can see that the road to housing can seem daunting indeed.


Tracy Halligan said...

Often the simplest solutions are the best ones.

Agent X said...

It seems the devil is always in the details even when you get him rooted out of the headlines.

As a Christian minister, I have whole other reasons to arrive at similar conclusions which I will not outline here. But that said, I want you to know that at least some of us Jesus-people support the ideal of Housing First in some important ways.

Thank you for your work.