Moving the homeless out of shelters, into homes
A new approach is being heralded not only as more successful in fighting chronic homelessness, but more cost effective.
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A study of one supportive-housing initiative in Boston released earlier this month by the Urban Institute found that the average client ended up in the hospital 102 times in the two years before getting into supportive housing. That dropped to seven days in the two years after getting into a home, saving the state $20,000 just in hospital costs. "Solving this problem turns out to be less expensive than managing it," says Mangano.Skip to next paragraph
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Almost 300 communities across the the country have now committed to 10-year plans to end homelessness. The federal government, under Mangano's leadership, is also asking for a record a $4.4 billion dollars in 2008 to spur the development of more supportive-housing complexes.
That success in dealing with the chronically homeless has prompted New York and other cities to experiment with similar philosophies for family homelessness. The city is taking a three-pronged approach: prevention, trying to help people with crises before they lose their homes, with an array of services from cash to pay-back rent to counseling and legal services to intervene with landlords; a short-term subsidy program to help families stabilize financially; and a diversion program that's designed to prevent families like the Cedanos from ending up in the homeless system in the first place.
The Cedanos' path to 'housing first'
The Cedanos had been living with Jennifer's mother. When she moved out of state, the family couldn't afford their own apartment, so they applied for shelter. Because Moises works – he's an electrician's assistant – social workers at the homeless intake center diverted him to the city's HomeBase program. The $12 million dollar program, founded in 2004, provides intensive case-work services and flexible financial assistance. The Cedanos' primary problem was that they couldn't afford a deposit on an apartment large enough for them with three children and a fourth on the way. So CAMBA, the nonprofit that provides HomeBase services for the city in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood, found the family an apartment, paid their deposit, and is helping them get a Section 8 voucher, which will give them a long-term rent subsidy. It's also going to help pay for training so that Mr. Cedano can become certified as a licensed electrician – a step up from his current job.
"This is a community-based effort to help people remain in their homes," says Robert Hess, commissioner of New York's Department of Homeless Services. "That's some of the best 'housing first' you can do."
Currently, New York has HomeBase programs in the six communities that had the highest percentage of people coming into the shelter system. While the number of people entering shelters around the city dropped 7 percent overall since 2004, the HomeBase communities saw a drop of 12 percent. Next year, Mr. Hess hopes to expand the program citywide. The budget will jump to $20 million by 2010.
A difficult question of greatest need
While critics applaud efforts to reduce chronic homelessness, there's also concern the focus on prevention and diversion takes resources away from families that are already homeless. Patrick Markee, senior. policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless, notes that while homelessness of chronic adults is down as much as 13 percent in the city, the number of homeless families is at a record high, with as many as 9,000 families in shelters on a given night. He points out that as the Bush administration is spending more on some homeless services, it's cutting funds to develop more affordable housing. He also believes the city should focus on providing long-term rent subsidies.
"Families that leave shelter and have either Section 8 vouchers or move into public housing have the very lowest rates of return to shelter," he says.
While the Cedanos wait for an answer on their Section 8 application, HomeBase will help pay their rent.
"We have that kind of flexibility that a lot of other organizations don't," says Melissa Mowery, CAMBA's HomeBase director.
The Cedanos are still shocked they didn't end up in shelter. "But I had faith ... everything would work out," says Moises. He's hoping that all of his kids, including the one on the way, will grow up in this apartment.