Housing First

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

Housing First

It’s OK to change your mind about homelessness and housing.

It’s been 19 days since my last post. 18 months of loss of smell; I can now smell jet engine exhaust so I have that going for me personally.

The last two and a half weeks included travel to the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference in Oakland that focused on the unsheltered. Connecting with other communities and learning that we are all facing similar challenges was helpful. It was refreshing to witness a conference with a centering on race equity and the participation of those with lived experience. Solutions must be informed by people who have the experience of homelessness, of incarceration, of living with disability, of living with mental illness and chronic health conditions. Programs and organizations must be led by people with those experiences and by people of color.

The number of unsheltered people around the Human Services Campus is 821, small decreases over the last several weeks. Additional tent fires, frequent violent situations. Today rain and wind. The highlight of my day today hearing a female voice singing “No One” by Alicia Keys. I couldn’t hear music, only her voice. I saw her shape dancing next to a flattened tent. She appeared oblivious to everything going on around her. And her singing skills reminded me of my own…. perfect if singing alone in the shower.

“When the rain is pouring down
And my heart is hurting
You will always be around
This I know for certain

You and me together
Through the days and nights
I don’t worry ’cause
Everything’s gonna be alright (yes, it will)
People keep talking, they can say what they like
But all I know is everything’s gonna be alright

No one, no one, no one
Can get in the way of what I’m feeling
No one, no one, no one”

All of this happening while only five blocks away the Arizona Legislature is hearing bills related to housing and homelessness. I wonder how many of those legislators have talked with the Singer or anyone else unsheltered in the tents they drive by or around on their way to work.

Some at the State Capitol are dissing Housing First. I wonder if they have spoken with any subject matter experts or reviewed the evidence based practice guides issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Housing First is evidence based. And it’s not Housing Only. To have positive outcomes it must be Housing With Services.

And yes, we have Housing First in Maricopa County. In fact according to Maricopa Association of Governments data for permanent housing in the region, which has to meet Housing First criteria in order to receive HUD Continuum of Care funding, the success rate for 2018 through 2022 is 93% to 96%. This means people retained their permanent supportive housing or they exited to other permanent housing.

Guess what isn’t proven to work as a permanent housing solution? Treatment First. Some electeds want to force treatment on people experiencing homelessness before assisting them with housing. There is no debate that Treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues works. And it is not proven to lead to strong permanent housing outcomes to mandate treatment before housing.

What can work is supporting people in housing, and if they need to use a treatment program allowing them to enter a program and return to their apartment. If we exit people from an apartment to enter treatment, then they have no guaranteed place to return.

People want choice. And people with similar experiences are the most appropriately informed to share what works. An echo chamber of people talking that have no experience with the issue and solutions is a group deciding they know best for others. There is no evidence that works.

Alicia Keys has another song called “Underdog.”

It includes this verse:

“She’s riding in a taxi back to the kitchen
Talking to the driver ’bout his wife and his children
On the run from a country where they put you in prison
For being a woman and speaking your mind
She looked in his eyes in the mirror and he smiled
One conversation, a single moment
The things that change us if we notice
When we look up, sometimes”

Today’s call to action: have a new conversation, listen, look up and maybe agree it’s OK to change your mind about homelessness and housing solutions.

About the Human Services Campus

Founded in 2005, the Human Services Campus is a collaborative force of partner organizations united on one campus to end homelessness. Located just west of downtown Phoenix, 16 independent agencies on the Campus see nearly 1,000 individuals every day, offering a holistic range of client services including: reunification with family and friends; mental, physical and dental health; shelter; employment; meals; legal services and housing. Having all of these resources in one location with intra-agency communications makes it more feasible to provide a customized engagement for each client to help end their homelessness. For more information, visit www.hsc-az.org.

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