Tag Archives: Housing First

The Astonishing Decline of Homelessness in America

… and why this quiet trend is about to reverse itself

In the next few years, as Washington looks to cut spending across the board, the public’s aversion to homelessness could contribute to its return. We have seen that some constituents have successfully lobbied to overturn some parts of the sequester, such as the FAA cuts. But the homeless population has notoriously low voter turnout, and certainly has little money to spare for campaign contributions. They are unlikely to have much power in an age of austerity and there seems to be little recognition or reward to be gained for politicians by serving the homeless.

As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – unless there is major intervention. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress.

Housing homeless tackled

Excellent op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press by Sam Tsemberis and Vicky Stergiopoulos

In Canada, we conducted the largest randomized controlled trial of its kind in the world on homelessness by comparing housing-first to services as usual (the At Home/Chez Soi study) involving 2,255 participants who were homeless across five Canadian cities (Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver). The one-year results, recently reported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, indicate HF is significantly more effective than services as usual in providing stable housing for people who had been homeless for years and who have complex clinical needs.

Also compelling was the finding that for every two government dollars invested in the HF program, $1 was saved. Savings were even greater for those who used services the most, with $3 saved for every $2 spent.

It’s no wonder the federal government supports housing-first: It is highly effective and can save money.

So Canada is on the right track. We have both funds and evidence-based policy for moving forward on homelessness. However, we still face two major hurdles in order to successfully meet a housing-first model.

First, the majority of programs currently funded across the country can be described as providing services for people who are homeless. Shelters, drop-in centres, and especially transitional or short-term housing programs must be helped to shift resources to programs that end homelessness instead. We will need to invest in providing training and consultation services to communities so they will obtain the guidance and support, timelines, and performance indicators necessary to move the system toward this new, much-needed direction.

The second hurdle concerns implementing housing-first programs so they are consistent with the basic principles of the model that achieved the outstanding outcomes in the At Home/Chez Soi study. Housing-first moves people rapidly from shelters or the streets into stable housing and provides evidence-based clinical and social supports to address social, mental-health, health, addiction, educational, employment issues and others. By providing services using a team approach and co-ordinating housing, clinical and social supports, this model reduces problems associated with fragmentation of services and improves inter-sectoral collaboration that usually plagues individuals and families seeking treatment.

In other words, housing-first, if implemented properly will transform public services across the country as we know them, and to do this effectively, teams will need adequate support and guidance to do so.

Column: Sask. homeless out of sight

My latest in The StarPhoenix

The Star Phoenix logo When I started working at the Salvation Army homeless shelter, we had two dorms for men. While working at our front desk, I had clear instructions to fill up our larger dorm first as a resident in the second dorm didn’t play well with others.

We had filled up enough that by 2007, we added another large dorm. It filled up on the second night, stayed full for almost three years. There still wasn’t enough space, so we started to refer the homeless men to the Lighthouse’s emergency shelter by suppertime because we had nowhere else to put them. If that shelter filled up, we put men on mats on the floor.

One of the reasons why the shelters stayed full was that after getting here, many men could not take the next steps to securing an apartment because of their mental health or addictions issues. As hard as it is for the men to find housing, the problem is even worse for single moms with children.

For generations, the idea was that if you get your act together, you will be able to find a place to call home. Across North America, being clean, sober and presentable were prerequisites to finding housing, with the predictable result: Those who were not clean and sober lived on the streets.

One of the first to challenge this thinking was Sam Tsemberis, who formed Pathways to Housing in New York City He said the proper order is to first find housing and then deal with the other issues.

Instead of waiting for a client to get his or her life in order, Tsemberis found and furnished an apartment in a neighbourhood the person liked, got the client settled in and then provided followup supports to help the person integrate into his or her surroundings.

The City of Toronto runs a similar program and its research shows that once people are housed, things change for the better: Mental and physical health improve, alcohol and drug use decline, and the associated arrests and emergency room visits decline. It also found that clients were using a family doctor and/or accessing psychiatric care, and dealing with problems before they contributed to homelessness.

Similar results are seen in other North American cities that use a housingfirst approach.

How was it accomplished? By spending less than before.

Toronto’s research shows that it’s less expensive to put someone in an affordable apartment (at $22 to $32 a night) than it is to house that person in a shelter ($54), motel ($80), jail cell ($143), emergency room ($212), or to treat the client as a psychiatric in-patient ($615 a night). What it also found was that providing housing and followup supports (regular, in-apartment visits) cost $10 a day more during that first year, which is still cheaper than the other shelter options.

You have much lower housing costs, a decrease in self-destructive activities, and an increase of quality of life – all for less money than what existing programs and systems would cost.

As for capital costs, most of the infrastructure already is in place. Public housing plays a role and the bulk of non-supported apartments came from the private sector. In Toronto, 68 per cent of clients choose private sector landlords, who have found them to be profitable tenants.

Iain de Jong, the former manager of the Streets to Home program, explained during a 2008 presentation in Saskatoon that clients tended to stay in one apartment for an extended period, the rent was paid by the government, the tenants weren’t very demanding and there was outside supports if there was a problem. Once that became known, the market provided the required increased number of rental units.

So why isn’t Saskatchewan on board? The problem tends to be hidden in this province. The encampments of homeless are small and out of the way: Families in campgrounds are out of sight and out of mind; guys sleeping in condemned buildings come and go undiscovered, and fall between the cracks in the system.

While there is money to be saved, these savings are across departments. That means you need to get a buy-in from Health, Justice, and Social Services officials. It’s as if we have spread out the problem across too many departments that no one notices when you are trapped in the problem. It’s overwhelming.

Progress in Calgary and Edmonton was driven in a large part by the private sector, but also in a big way by the Alberta government pulling people together and having the will and the courage to believe it could end homelessness in a decade.

If Saskatchewan can find the same political will, it could happen here even sooner.

I’m angry at the government as well

Cosmo Industries is upset with the City of Saskatoon City Council.  I am to but for totally different reasons.  Saskatoon doesn’t have a minor league ball team, the Riders don’t hold their training camp in Saskatoon anymore, there is a massive pothole on a street I drive to work on.  The list goes on.

Cosmo’s complaint seems to revolve around the fact that they have a contract for paper collection in the city and that contract is now in jeopardy because of the cities move to curbside recycling.  As The StarPhoenix’s Dave Hutton writes.

Cosmo issued a news release Tuesday, stating that "adults with intellectual disabilities are shut out from benefiting from the future economic and population growth in Saskatoon."

In a report, the city guarantees Cosmo 7,800 tonnes of paper fibre each year for the next seven years, the remainder of a 10-year contract. The amount of paper fibre Cosmo has received from the depots has ranged from roughly 6,500 in 2005 to 7,800 tonnes in 2010, around 41 per cent of total paper fibre in the waste stream. The city projected the amount to decrease because of more households signing up for private curbside collection and a move to digital media.

When a curbside system is installed in 2012, the depot system will remain intact, but the amount of paper coming from the depots is expected to decrease substantially. In a report, the city says it will provide the 7,800 tonnes to Cosmo by delivering the remainder of paper from depots and large organizations. The city also says it will ask bidders to provide pricing for the city to buy raw paper fibre from them and deliver it to Cosmo to meet the contract requirements.

Ken Gryschuk, community relations manager for Cosmo, said the organization projected the amount of paper received through depots to increase to 10,000 tonnes through 2018.

They are so upset they are not threatening to sue but want to talk to their lawyers about it.

Gryschuk said he still thinks there is time to amend the agreement. He said Cosmo "is not contemplating a lawsuit" but is getting a legal opinion on the status of the contract with the city.

"I do not believe that this is over," he said. "What was done last night does not reflect the will of the people of Saskatoon."

I am a part of a non-profit who deals with the Government of Saskatchewan and one thing I have learned is that essentially I work at the leisure of the Government of Saskatchewan and can be shut down or impacted negatively at any time.  This week I have spent pouring over budget information and made the hard decision to (hopefully temporarily) cut positions at the shelter.  It’s hard and it is largely a result in a government policy shift in how they want to handle their department.  The Centre has lost funding for programs before and I am sure it will lose funding for programs in the future.  Other agencies have gone through the same thing.  While I understand the frustration that those who run Cosmo Industries must feel, it is the same for everyone.  Market conditions changed and Cosmo is going to have to adjust.

The same for us.  Housing FIrst programs are dealing with homelessness far better than shelters have and so we prepare for the day when sheltering is going to be a lot less important than assisted living and SROs.  It’s been difficult in other cities as at the Booth Centre in Calgary where a change in the environment has been met with layoffs

It’s a hard decision for city council but what Cosmo Industries wanted would have frozen the city in time.  Here is how Gerry Klein sees it.

The monkey-wrench in the works, however, is a belief by Cosmo industries that to move on could cost the organization access to the paper that makes it work. To allay these fears, Coun. Lorje in January proposed – and council unanimously agreed – that any new system should be designed to protect Cosmo’s interests.

That turned the debate to whether the status quo was protection enough. Half of council and the civic administration believed that guaranteeing Cosmo a minimum volume of paper – the 7,800 tonnes or so it now receives – should allow the enterprise to continue by maintaining the current level of employment for its clients.

Cosmo, however, wants a bigger cut of the action. If this were about any other recyclable material, it probably wouldn’t have mattered much. But paper is where the money is in recycling.

Every non-profit wants to do more to help it’s clients.  Without a doubt Cosmo could hire more people and help more if they got up to 10,000 tonnes of paper a year but all non-profits can do the same if given more resources.  Cosmo is going to have to diversify, expand, retool, and reimagine themselves.  They have had a great ride, built a great legacy, and have goodwill in the community.  Trashing city council for not allowing them to continue their monopoly isn’t the way to go.  Figuring out their next market is what they need to be doing.