On July 30 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development reported the number of chronically homeless people living in shelters and on the streets dropped roughly 30% from 2005 to 2007 (175,914 to 123,833). 3,800 US cities and counties and the localities engaged in counting every homeless person living on the street, using shelters or housed in jails and hospitals with nowhere to go upon release.
On a national level the credit for the reduction is being given to the “housing first” strategy where local officials place homeless people into permanent shelter – apartments, halfway houses or rooms – and then focus on treating any addiction and mental and health problems outstanding.
At the local level the web of services coming together is much more intricate and the progress varies from one US metro to another. This makes it important to consider how the cities achieving the highest success rates are making this happen.
For example the city of Miami had a 50% reduction in the count of homeless people from October, 2006 to March, 2007. Behind this are multiple sources of funding and a broad coordination of efforts. The city of Miami is in Miami-Dade County which has a 1% Food and Beverage Tax as a dedicated revenue source for homeless initiatives. Almost $12 million was collected in 2007 for the homeless trust fund. The city also benefits from strong public/private partnerships such as the Bank of America initiative that donated $1 million towards the creation of the Camillus House residence. In addition The City of Miami Homeless Assistance Program (MHAP) provides out reach, assessment, jobs, and transportation services to homeless individuals and families, even employing 30 mostly formerly homeless men and women.
Using this network, other services can be managed, like emergency shelter placement, an indoor feeding program (165,410 individuals fed in 2006), specialized hospital discharge planning, drug and alcohol abuse treatment and mental health assessments and treatment referrals. Somerville Residence in Miami is one place offering affordable housing for 47 families in one-two and three-bedroom units. Their program is designed to provide support during a transition period from homelessness to the workforce.
In New York City numbers of homeless living on the street or in the subway was down 12 percent (2006 – 2007) and 25 percent (2005 – 2007). This is an actual decrease of nearly 1,100 people. The City and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) are using multiple strategies, partnerships and programs including a public education campaign, called ‘Give Real Change’. This campaign reminds New Yorkers that the best way to help homeless individuals on the streets or in subways is to call 311 to have an outreach team sent to help.
Other examples of NYC efforts are the Homeless Encampments Initiative where more than a dozen city and state agencies partnered to clear 70 targeted encampments and “hot spots” throughout the five boroughs, a major overhaul of the city’s approach, into an innovative partnership with the MTA and a new housing options providing small housing structures called Safe Havens.
The smaller Safe Havens offer a safe, barrier-free temporary housing option for street homeless individuals who choose not to come into shelters. The first Safe Haven was piloted by NYC in November 2006 in partnership with the Bowery Residents Committee (BRC), a non-profit service provider, and with the support of a grant from The Betty and Norman F. Levy Foundation. In its first year, the BRC Safe Haven partnership had served 52 clients with an average length of street homelessness history of seven and a half years. Seventeen of these clients—some who were chronically homeless for more than 20 years—have moved into permanent homes of their own.
Based on the success of the Bowery pilot program, Mayor Bloomberg provided funding in the City’s budget to replicate the Safe Haven model citywide. There are currently more than 200 Safe Haven beds across the City at five sites, and by the end of 2008 there will be more than 500 beds available. The city now emphasizes placing the longest-term or most chronically homeless individuals into permanent housing.
Many other US cities and counties are addressing the problem of homeless in creative ways that are producing positive results.
For more details visit the web site for the US Interagency Council on Homelessness http://www.ich.gov and click on the right column choice called “Our innovation series continues with 5 more ideas”. Along with the 5 new innovations you will see many other efforts showing how Federal, state, local agencies, corporate sponsors and faith based groups are coming together to provide shelter, food and more permanent homes for people.