[Hpn] Not just shelter, but home, for the homeless; Boston Globe; 3/23/2008

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@gmail.com
Sun, 23 Mar 2008 04:53:08 -0400


Key excerpts:

 Sunday, March 23, 2008
 Boston Globe
 [Boston, Massachusetts]
 Local News section
 Not just shelter, but home, for the homeless
http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/03/23/not_just_shelter_but_home_for_the_homeless/

 [...]

 Housing First is just what the name says: a move away from emergency
 shelter and toward permanent housing. The belief is that given a home
 of their own, folks can then start focusing on jobs, mental health,
 and sobriety. It represents a radical change from warehousing the
 homeless one night at a time, only to kick them out the next day.

 "All we were continuing to do is manage a problem," says Yazwinski.
 "It's been just temporary housing. We asked ourselves why we were
 putting so much money into shelter and less money into housing."

 Most important, they asked the homeless what they needed. The
 invariable reply: housing first, then help with other issues.

 [...]

 A recent study of the first two years of Housing First by a
 UMass-Boston researcher found that the program has reduced the number
 of those seeking emergency shelter and has provided stability for 86
 percent of the 64 residents who remained housed a year or more after
 their move. In Quincy and Weymouth, the report found, chronic
 homelessness decreased by 19 percent between January 2006 and January
 2007.

 Also, the quality of life improved drastically: Residents began to
 address their medical needs and were no longer exposed to disease in
 crowded shelters. Nor did they have to cart their possessions around
 all day, or wait in long lines for a bed and a meal. The number of
 those receiving SSI benefits increased, since they had a permanent
 address; many also got on MassHealth, the state medical plan for the
 needy. Most were able to get jobs and stay sober, with the help of
 staffers from Father Bill's who provided support services. According
 to the report, hospital stays were dramatically reduced: inpatient
 visits by 77 percent, emergency room visits by 83 percent.

 And the model is $3,500 cheaper per person than housing them in
 shelters - a figure that doesn't include savings from expensive
 hospital visits.

 [...]


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 Sunday, March 23, 2008
 Boston Globe
 [Boston, Massachusetts]
 Local News section
 Not just shelter, but home, for the homeless
http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/03/23/not_just_shelter_but_home_for_the_homeless/

 By Bella English  |  March 23, 2008

 The homeless veteran, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,
 had been living in a tent behind a plaza in Plymouth for nearly a
 decade.

 A woman struggling with serious mental health issues had been homeless
 for three years, in and out of shelters on the South Shore.

 Thanks to the Housing First program started three years ago by Father
 Bill's Place, an emergency shelter in Quincy, the man and the woman -
 and many more like them - are now in their own apartments or lodging
 house rooms. For many, it is the first home they've had in years.

 It makes good sense, giving the homeless homes. The hard-core homeless
 come off the grates, out of the woods and emergency shelters, and move
 into places of their own, with support services. It's both
 compassionate and cost-effective, since that population tends to cycle
 through expensive court visits, detox, jail, and/or hospital stays.

 Father Bill's has been ahead of the curve in what is becoming a
 nationwide trend. Governor Deval Patrick has recently proposed
 spending $10 million to place thousands of homeless people in their
 own apartments or rooms over the next five years.

 Though some of the chronically homeless don't make it on their own,
 the majority do. "The woman had been sleeping in a tent, off and on,
 for years," says John Yazwinski, executive director of Father Bill's,
 which merged with MainSpring in Brockton last summer. "When we first
 moved her into an apartment, she slept on the floor in her sleeping
 bag." She has been connected with mental health services and is
 reunited with her family.

 The vet who pitched his tent in the Plymouth woods calls his new place
 "the Taj Mahal," says Yazwinski.

 Housing First is just what the name says: a move away from emergency
 shelter and toward permanent housing. The belief is that given a home
 of their own, folks can then start focusing on jobs, mental health,
 and sobriety. It represents a radical change from warehousing the
 homeless one night at a time, only to kick them out the next day.

 "All we were continuing to do is manage a problem," says Yazwinski.
 "It's been just temporary housing. We asked ourselves why we were
 putting so much money into shelter and less money into housing."

 Most important, they asked the homeless what they needed. The
 invariable reply: housing first, then help with other issues.

 There will always be people who, for whatever reason, need temporary
 shelter. But the more people Yazwinski can place in their own units,
 the fewer shelter beds will be needed, he believes.

 In 2003-2004, Father Bill's sheltered 140 per night. "We said we have
 to go in a different direction," says Yazwinski. Now, that number is
 down to 95.

 A recent study of the first two years of Housing First by a
 UMass-Boston researcher found that the program has reduced the number
 of those seeking emergency shelter and has provided stability for 86
 percent of the 64 residents who remained housed a year or more after
 their move. In Quincy and Weymouth, the report found, chronic
 homelessness decreased by 19 percent between January 2006 and January
 2007.

 Also, the quality of life improved drastically: Residents began to
 address their medical needs and were no longer exposed to disease in
 crowded shelters. Nor did they have to cart their possessions around
 all day, or wait in long lines for a bed and a meal. The number of
 those receiving SSI benefits increased, since they had a permanent
 address; many also got on MassHealth, the state medical plan for the
 needy. Most were able to get jobs and stay sober, with the help of
 staffers from Father Bill's who provided support services. According
 to the report, hospital stays were dramatically reduced: inpatient
 visits by 77 percent, emergency room visits by 83 percent.

 And the model is $3,500 cheaper per person than housing them in
 shelters - a figure that doesn't include savings from expensive
 hospital visits.

 The sheer fact of having a home, or even a room, of one's own is
 life-giving, perhaps life-saving. Consider the 18-year-old heroin
 addict who had grown up in foster care, aged out, and found herself in
 an adult shelter with women in their 50s, also struggling with serious
 issues.

 "She's trying to finish high school, and instead of her sleeping in a
 dorm room with 30 other adult women, we gave her a room in a lodging
 house in Quincy," says Yazwinski. "The women there each have their own
 room; on bad days or whenever, they can close the door."

 But let's hear from the tenants themselves, who, when they get on
 their feet, pay 30 percent of their rent; the rest is covered by
 Father Bill's. Before she had her own place, one woman told the UMass
 study, "We had to be out of the shelter by 7:30, and we were out on
 the streets by 8. I went to the library, walking."

 Most notably, the new tenants appreciated being able to live their own
 lives free from strict shelter rules such as when to eat, when to
 shower, when to leave. "Now I have peace and quiet, a lot more peace,
 have TV. . . . Getting my life back was a big thing. . . . I don't
 have to stand in line," were typical comments in the UMass report.

 Because emergency shelter is more expensive than Housing First units,
 Yazwinski is asking the state to convert funds from shelter beds to
 permanent places such as the ones his agency has opened in Quincy,
 Brockton, and Plymouth. "I think what makes Father Bill's & MainSpring
 a strong entity is that we're trying to end this problem of
 homelessness, not just continue to manage it. We're trying to take the
 shelter sign down."

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