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HOUSING FIRST CELEBRATES
Housing First Profile
FJ is a 42 year old man who was homeless for more than 3 years, staying in abandoned buildings, with friends, and in shelter. He works part-time and receives $500 per month. He grew up in a family in which substance abuse was the norm, and he began using at age 16. Prior to housing, he had been clean for 9 months and he continues to work on his recovery.
ST is a 49 year old man who had been living in shelter for the last 4 years, since he and his wife separated. Since his housing with the HF program he has been working to get his driver’s license back in order to pursue his CDL. His plan is to go to work.
LJ is a 50 year old man who had been homeless since 2004, spending much of that time in shelter. As a result of being hit by a bus in 1992, LJ walks with a pronounced limp and has loss of mobility in his wrist and cognitive impairment. He has expressed disbelief that he has housing and has also expressed pride that his mother is happy that he is doing the right thing with his life.
KT is a 57 year old man who had been homeless for at least 4 years staying mostly in abandoned buildings. He receives Social Security. He had been injured at work, lost his job, and did not have any benefits for 2 years. He has severe chronic back pain. He now has a place where his family can visit him; his goal is to have better health.
JM is a 37 year old woman who had been homeless for more than 5 years. JM has a mental illness. Since she has been housed with the Housing First program she has been able to spend time with her son in a safe, stable, and drug-free home. Additionally she has a safe place to retreat to when daily stresses arise.
RB is a 40 year woman who had been homeless for over 5 years, staying at the emergency shelter, with friends, and in abandoned buildings. She has a mental illness as well as substance abuse and medical problems.
On September 28, 2008 Mercer Alliance and the Mercer County Housing First Collaborative celebrated the first six months of successfully housing the first cohort of Housing First tenants.
Applications are taken at centers that serve homeless clients and then chosen by lottery. Over the long term, this rate may decline somewhat through tenants moving to other programs or changes in the health of the tenants1.
How does Housing First work?
These chronically homeless tenants have been given rental housing in the community. The tenants are assisted with receiving disability income. They then pay 30% of their income for rent. Having a home to call their own after years of living on the street and in shelters gives these formerly homeless individuals dignity and independence.
Chronically homeless people almost always have a substance abuse, mental health or medical disability or all three. Services to help them with these issues are offered on a voluntary basis after they are housed. Studies show that they are as likely to be sober or compliant in treatment in voluntary programs, as they would be in mandated programs2. They will also be in better health3, be in jail less4, be hospitalized less5 and use the emergency room less frequently6 than if they did not have Housing First.
Housing First was cited by HUD as the primary cause for the 30% drop in chronic homelessness from 2005-20077. It saves thousands of dollars in services8 and is cheaper than the model of servicing the homeless in shelters without ever ending their homelessness9.
The first Housing First sites were Beyond Shelter in 1988 in Los Angeles and Pathways to Housing in 1992 in New York City. Many studies have shown their effectiveness.
Housing First in Mercer County
The Mercer County Housing First Collaborative was formed to bring together the expertise and funding to implement a Housing First demonstration project in Mercer County. Greater Trenton Behavioral Health Care was chosen by the Collaborative as the primary provider of housing and case management services. The following agencies are members:
Other private funders include Bristol Myers Squibb, Ortho McNeil Janssen Pharmaceutical Services, Tyco, The Partnership to End Long-Term Homelessness, and The Fund for New Jersey.
A professional evaluation of this project will examine the outcomes for clients and the costs incurred by the systems they access to determine whether Housing First is a viable model for housing the entire chronically homeless population in Mercer County and throughout New Jersey. In Mercer County, this pilot program is a crucial element in the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. It will decrease the chronically homeless population of about 350 individuals and households by about 15% over three years.
1, 4. Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, “Home and Healthy for Good: A Statewide Pilot Housing First Program; Updated Report June 2007” www.mhsa.net
2. Einbinder and Tull, The Housing First Program for Homeless Families: Empirical Evidence of Long-tem Efficacy to End and Prevent Family Homelessness. June 2005 http://www.beyondshelter.org/
3. Perlman and Parvensky, “Denver Housing First Collaborative: Cost Benefit Analysis and Program Outcomes Report” December 11, 2006. http://www.nicic.org/Library/022108
5. Tsembris, Housing First, Consumer Choice and Harm Reduction for Homeless Individuals With a Dual Diagnosis, Am. J. Public Health 94:4 (April 2004) pp. 651-656.
6, 8. New York saved $16,281 in services. Culhane, “The New York/New York Agreement Cost Study: The Impact of Supportive Housing on Services Use for Homeless Mentally Ill Individuals” May 2001.
7. New York Times 7/30/08
9. Seattle saved $14,884. ‘Housing First’ Approach to Homelessness Brings Hope to Hard Lives, City of Seattle press release 1/9/08.
Nine families are in the pipeline for housing. A number of families have a female head of household in her early 20’s. They have about 3 children, most under the age of 7. They have had significant trauma in their lives including physical and sexual abuse and multiple foster care placements. They also experience depression and anxiety. They have had multiple episodes of homelessness, in family shelters and staying with friends and family.
Most of them want to continue or resume their education, be reunited with the children who are not with them and establish stability for themselves and their children.