[Hpn] Ready or Not, a Home of Their Own

William C. Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Wed, 26 Dec 2007 21:49:43 -0500


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=20
Ready or Not, a Home of Their Own
By Marc Fisher

Thursday, December 27, 2007; Page B01=20

This is where Gregory Hart lived for most of the past two years: down an =
alley alongside Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street NW, next to a trash can, =
curled against a concrete platform. Here, gang toughs assaulted him with =
a baseball bat. Here, he raised rats in a box. Here, he relied on a dog =
and a cat -- Bam Bam and Little Bam Bam -- to wake him if danger lurked. =
Here, passersby called him "retard" and shouted at him to "get a job."=20

And this is where Gregory Hart has lived since last Thursday: in a =
spacious, sunny, well-heated three-room apartment he has entirely to =
himself, with a stove where he can cook chicken and gravy, and with a =
blue comforter he chose at Target and a bed where he can sleep as long =
as he wants without fear of attack.=20

Hart, 53, has spent long chunks of his life on the streets of =
Washington. Mentally ill and in poor health, he has drifted through =
periods of drinking and drugging. Dismissed as mentally incompetent from =
an early age, he never attended regular school and couldn't read or =
write until adulthood.=20

"My mother tried to keep me in the house when I was young because nobody =
liked me," he says. "I was rejected by the population."=20

Hart would still be in the alley this week if not for a small but =
fast-growing nonprofit group called Pathways to Housing that puts =
chronically homeless people into their own apartments -- with daily =
support from social workers -- even if they're not sober, even if they =
lack basic housekeeping skills.=20


Most plans for the homeless involve moving them through shelters and =
group homes until they prove they are ready for permanent housing by =
staying sober and going to treatment for a substantial time.=20

But under a model called Housing First, groups such as Pathways take =
people as they are, in part because housing is a basic right and in part =
because it's cheaper. It costs $23,000 a year to care for people who =
have someplace to live versus more than $40,000 a year to give the =
homeless the emergency services they require -- hospital ER care, detox, =
hours of police attention, endless trips through the court system.=20

In four years in Washington, Pathways has taken 130 homeless people off =
the streets, about 90 percent of whom are still in housing. Landlords =
like to rent to Pathways clients rather than other renters on public =
benefits because although homeless people arrive with many problems, =
they are closely supervised by the organization's treatment team.=20

In a federally funded study, 225 homeless people with severe mental =
illnesses were randomly placed in either a Housing First program or a =
traditional care model in select cities. After two years, 80 percent of =
the Housing First participants were still in housing, compared with 34 =
percent of those put through the standard approach.=20

As it turns out, there's a side benefit to getting the chronically =
homeless off the streets: Although many continue to drink and use drugs, =
they tend to do less of those things.=20

Hart still drinks, still hears voices. But he says he's drinking less =
because he's far from the temptations at the shelters, safe from the =
cold and from nights that seem as if they'll never end.=20

"Like many homeless people, Greg was drinking to manage his mental =
illness or to fall asleep in difficult conditions," says Christy =
Respress, Pathway's Washington program director. "When they get into =
housing, they often don't drink as much because they have a warm room =
and a real bed."=20

Still, Hart faces a hard road. "Getting people into housing is the easy =
part," Respress says. "The hard part is staying there."=20

Hart's life has been an excruciating series of humiliations and traumas. =
One of nine children who grew up at the Sursum Corda project off North =
Capitol Street, Hart tells of his brothers and sisters who were shot to =
death or took their lives, of murders and other unspeakable acts he's =
seen on the streets.=20

At another alleyway where he used to sleep, he broke into tears at the =
memory of one midnight assault. Less than half a block later, when a =
police cruiser blasted its siren, Hart yelped and bounced back into a =
chain-link fence, quivering until he was assured that the police weren't =
coming for him.=20

One block later, we ran into two women who grew up with Hart but hadn't =
seen him in decades. "Squeaky!" they shouted -- his boyhood street name =
-- and hugged him tight. Within five minutes, one woman had Hart's =
brother on the cellphone, and the two spoke for the first time in years. =


"I'm back," Hart cried out. "I'm baaaaack. I got my own apartment, and I =
want to see you, my brother."=20

Pathways counselors will visit Hart daily at his new place in the =
Deanwood section of Northeast, enroll him in treatment, help him manage =
his money and eventually nudge him back toward the world of work. =
They've gotten him back Social Security payments he's eligible for =
because he worked a maintenance job for many years. One-third of his =
benefits go toward his rent; Pathways pays the rest, using federal and =
District funds.=20

For now, Hart is settling in. He has ideas about decoration: "Posters =
are for young people. If it's not in a frame, it's not going on the =
wall." As deliverymen bring in his mattress, Hart shakes with glee. =
"Pinch me! It's still not real," he says.=20

Then, when the men carry in a plush off-white love seat and plop it down =
in the living room, Greg Hart lowers himself into the deep cushions.=20

"Oh," he says. "Oh. Oh. That's pretty." In a few seconds, he's drifting =
off.=20

"Potomac Confidential" returns next week =
athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.=20

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<DIV style=3D"PADDING-LEFT: 10px">
<H1>Ready or Not, a Home of Their Own</H1>
<H2 style=3D"MARGIN-BOTTOM: 10px"></H2><FONT size=3D2>
<DIV id=3Dbyline>By <A title=3D"Send an e-mail to Marc Fisher"=20
href=3D"http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/email/marc+fisher/"><FON=
T=20
color=3D#0c4790>Marc Fisher</FONT></A></DIV>
<DIV>&nbsp;</DIV>Thursday, December 27, 2007; Page B01 </FONT>
<P></P></DIV>
<DIV id=3Darticle_body style=3D"PADDING-LEFT: 10px">
<P>This is where Gregory Hart lived for most of the past two years: down =
an=20
alley alongside Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street NW, next to a trash can, =
curled=20
against a concrete platform. Here, gang toughs assaulted him with a =
baseball=20
bat. Here, he raised rats in a box. Here, he relied on a dog and a cat =
-- Bam=20
Bam and Little Bam Bam -- to wake him if danger lurked. Here, passersby =
called=20
him "retard" and shouted at him to "get a job." </P>
<DIV id=3Dbody_after_content_column>
<P>And this is where Gregory Hart has lived since last Thursday: in a =
spacious,=20
sunny, well-heated three-room apartment he has entirely to himself, with =
a stove=20
where he can cook chicken and gravy, and with a blue comforter he chose =
at=20
Target and a bed where he can sleep as long as he wants without fear of =
attack.=20
</P>
<P>Hart, 53, has spent long chunks of his life on the streets of =
Washington.=20
Mentally ill and in poor health, he has drifted through periods of =
drinking and=20
drugging. Dismissed as mentally incompetent from an early age, he never =
attended=20
regular school and couldn't read or write until adulthood. </P>
<P>"My mother tried to keep me in the house when I was young because =
nobody=20
liked me," he says. "I was rejected by the population." </P>
<P>Hart would still be in the alley this week if not for a small but=20
fast-growing nonprofit group called Pathways to Housing that puts =
chronically=20
homeless people into their own apartments -- with daily support from =
social=20
workers -- even if they're not sober, even if they lack basic =
housekeeping=20
skills. </P>
<DIV id=3Dinline-ad style=3D"PADDING-RIGHT: 10px; FLOAT: left; =
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<P>Most plans for the homeless involve moving them through shelters and =
group=20
homes until they prove they are ready for permanent housing by staying =
sober and=20
going to treatment for a substantial time. </P>
<P>But under a model called Housing First, groups such as Pathways take =
people=20
as they are, in part because housing is a basic right and in part =
because it's=20
cheaper. It costs $23,000 a year to care for people who have someplace =
to live=20
versus more than $40,000 a year to give the homeless the emergency =
services they=20
require -- hospital ER care, detox, hours of police attention, endless =
trips=20
through the court system. </P>
<P>In four years in Washington, Pathways has taken 130 homeless people =
off the=20
streets, about 90 percent of whom are still in housing. Landlords like =
to rent=20
to Pathways clients rather than other renters on public benefits because =

although homeless people arrive with many problems, they are closely =
supervised=20
by the organization's treatment team. </P>
<P>In a federally funded study, 225 homeless people with severe mental =
illnesses=20
were randomly placed in either a Housing First program or a traditional =
care=20
model in select cities. After two years, 80 percent of the Housing First =

participants were still in housing, compared with 34 percent of those =
put=20
through the standard approach. </P>
<P>As it turns out, there's a side benefit to getting the chronically =
homeless=20
off the streets: Although many continue to drink and use drugs, they =
tend to do=20
less of those things. </P>
<P>Hart still drinks, still hears voices. But he says he's drinking less =
because=20
he's far from the temptations at the shelters, safe from the cold and =
from=20
nights that seem as if they'll never end. </P>
<P>"Like many homeless people, Greg was drinking to manage his mental =
illness or=20
to fall asleep in difficult conditions," says Christy Respress, =
Pathway's=20
Washington program director. "When they get into housing, they often =
don't drink=20
as much because they have a warm room and a real bed." </P>
<P>Still, Hart faces a hard road. "Getting people into housing is the =
easy=20
part," Respress says. "The hard part is staying there." </P>
<P>Hart's life has been an excruciating series of humiliations and =
traumas. One=20
of nine children who grew up at the Sursum Corda project off North =
Capitol=20
Street, Hart tells of his brothers and sisters who were shot to death or =
took=20
their lives, of murders and other unspeakable acts he's seen on the =
streets.=20
</P>
<P>At another alleyway where he used to sleep, he broke into tears at =
the memory=20
of one midnight assault. Less than half a block later, when a police =
cruiser=20
blasted its siren, Hart yelped and bounced back into a chain-link fence, =

quivering until he was assured that the police weren't coming for him. =
</P>
<P>One block later, we ran into two women who grew up with Hart but =
hadn't seen=20
him in decades. "Squeaky!" they shouted -- his boyhood street name -- =
and hugged=20
him tight. Within five minutes, one woman had Hart's brother on the =
cellphone,=20
and the two spoke for the first time in years. </P>
<P>"I'm back," Hart cried out. "I'm baaaaack. I got my own apartment, =
and I want=20
to see you, my brother." </P>
<P>Pathways counselors will visit Hart daily at his new place in the =
Deanwood=20
section of Northeast, enroll him in treatment, help him manage his money =
and=20
eventually nudge him back toward the world of work. They've gotten him =
back=20
Social Security payments he's eligible for because he worked a =
maintenance job=20
for many years. One-third of his benefits go toward his rent; Pathways =
pays the=20
rest, using federal and District funds. </P>
<P>For now, Hart is settling in. He has ideas about decoration: "Posters =
are for=20
young people. If it's not in a frame, it's not going on the wall." As=20
deliverymen bring in his mattress, Hart shakes with glee. "Pinch me! =
It's still=20
not real," he says. </P>
<P>Then, when the men carry in a plush off-white love seat and plop it =
down in=20
the living room, Greg Hart lowers himself into the deep cushions. </P>
<P>"Oh," he says. "Oh. Oh. That's pretty." In a few seconds, he's =
drifting off.=20
</P>
<P><I>"Potomac Confidential" returns next week at<A=20
href=3D"http://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline"><FONT=20
color=3D#0c4790>http:/<WBR>/<WBR>www.washingtonpost.com/<WBR>liveonline</=
FONT></A>.</I>=20
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