Continuum of Care Continues Work to End Homelessness in Summit County (Part Two)

Homeless on the streets


With some pretty big changes coming to the Continuum of Care (COC), new questions and hope begin to arise:
Will Transitional Housing in Summit County become a thing of the past?

Is Permanent Supportive Housing better?

Should those who are homeless have to address mental issues, addictions and any other issues they have in order to stay in government funded housing?

All of these things have been addressed by those who serves our area’s homeless population day in and day out.

Finding the best solutions to help our community as a whole is what they do. And what they’ve found is that focusing on housing first may be the best thing that we can do to address our areas’ homeless.

Why the Transitioning from Transitional Housing564089_10151113439856955_881054014_n

“Transitional housing is something HUD would like us to get out of. It’s where someone can go and stay for up to 24 months, paid by grants, but they are starting to see some other ways,” shared Sue Pierson, Director of Info Line Inc..

“HUD says they don’t intend to keep funding homelessness.  We need to end it,” she continued.

This leaves the COC looking at other ways of addressing this issue.

“They’re saying there’s nothing magic about 24 months (of transitional housing). You shouldn’t be putting someone in an apartment, providing all of these things for them and then cutting them loose,” Pierson said.

Many times the individual ends up going back to the same situation they were in before getting temporary housing.

So how do we fix this?

Cole House side view

The Missing Piece

When addressing the issue of housing, it’s much bigger than just getting a roof over someone’s head. There are many other pieces of the puzzle to consider, such as, does the person suffer from mental illness or a drug abuse issue?

In the past COC members have realized there are often an array of issues following the homeless, including substance abuse, mental illness, drug abuse and/or domestic violence – many of them happening at the same time in one person’s life.

Many non-profit housing organizations will tell them that they have to be clean and sober for 6 months before entering their program.

But Pierson finds this to be a problem.

Hungry little homeless girl

Is Housing a Human Right?

“You tell me how someone follows a program to get off of drugs when they’re sleeping under the bridge and worrying about getting conked over the head. When they get into housing they almost have post-traumatic stress syndrome. To be homeless means you’re in crisis all the time,” Pierson explained of the difficulties with this approach.

“What they’re finding and saying is, ‘Is housing a right, or is housing something you earn by good behavior?’” she continued.

“How do you expect someone to get back on track if they’re living in a cardboard box?”

The answer they are finding would be to get the person into housing first and then if they want to address their issues, have the resources available.

Keep Housing as Housing

“Once they get into housing and want to get off drugs and booze and they relapse, you don’t kick them out. The housing is the housing as long as you obey your lease and don’t impair the enjoyment of the property by somebody else,” Pierson explained.

“It’s a housing issue. Your drug addiction and mental illness and all that other stuff is another issue,” she continued, saying “We hope that we can build trust with you over time and get you help with things.  And, curiously enough, that works.”

The Case for Permanent Housing

Others reason to offer permanent housing first: it costs less to provide housing than it does to keep them out on the street and pay everyone to provide services to them.

The idea is to put the homeless into subsidized housing because most will not have jobs and some may never have jobs.

“But what happens is you don’t even make services a requirement, which is the whole [idea behind] Permanent Supportive Housing,” Pierson said.

This can appear controversial to those who believe that homeless people should be involved in programs and required to work on their issues.

But the COC is moving away from the idea of making individuals get clean and sober before being offered housing.

“Instead, they move you into housing and kinda let all your synapses calm down,” Pierson said.

Pierson explained that once someone gets into housing they need about 6-8 months before they can really start to engage and deal with the issues that caused them to become homeless, and then begin working to get back on their feet again.

“You offer the services, make them available, but don’t make the housing part of the plan so that if they fall off the wagon (they aren’t kicked out),” she explained.
This somewhat new approach has worked well in other cities.

Watch for Part Three next week!

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