‘Housing First’ only process that’s proven to rapidly end homelessness

Confronting Homelessness

On Maui, we have a plan. A plan that has already ended homelessness for 671 people over the last year and shows great promise for the future.

I recently heard a conversation where people were talking about their irritation with the homelessness on Maui. One person exclaimed, “Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” I could feel and hear the frustration in their words, especially since they were reflecting the feelings of many in the community. Their exasperation totally makes sense unless they have the perspective and experience of the social service agencies who are working with the homeless.

Even if you cannot readily see it, right now on Maui, a great deal is being done to alleviate homelessness. I want to reiterate: Maui County, alongside organizations and individuals of the Maui Homeless Alliance, has a plan!

The plan is called “Housing First.” Just to re-emphasize, in the last year, 671 people were put in a permanent home because of Housing First. Of these 671, some were from the street and beaches while others were moved from emergency shelters into a permanent home. Most were individuals and some were families. All were people who wanted help and made the choice to receive the services.

In regard to the people you now see on the streets, there are currently services available that will move them into a home, but it has to be their decision. Caseworkers are continually building relationships with these folks and offering help. Many have decided it is time to live in a home, yet others want to stay where they are.

I recently heard a very wise woman say, “I believe that everyone wants to live in a home. The problems lie in the fact that they want to live within their own defined conditions; defined conditions that we don’t currently have services for. Given enough time and resources, homes for these individuals may become available in the future, but even then it must be their choice.”

Each person is unique, each person has a story and each person needs to be handled individually with respect, dignity and empathy. Let’s not forget that the homeless are like you and me. They are human beings and they have rights. They have the right to choose if they want to live in a house or not. We can’t make them go where they don’t want to go.

Why has the Maui Homeless Alliance decided to move in the direction of Housing First? It’s simple. Because it works! Housing First is the only process that has proven to rapidly end homelessness. In the cities that have adopted this model, the majority of participants obtained housing at a much higher rate, with 62 percent being housed all the time, 22 percent some of the time and only 16 percent not being housed. Cities without Housing First saw only 31 percent retained housing, 23 percent were housed some of the time and 46 percent were never housed.

Not only is it a successful model for moving the homeless into a home, it is also a method that improves the life of the people served and lowers the cost of tax dollars spent.

In Toronto, there was a 49 percent decrease in alcohol use with 17 percent stopping drinking altogether. There was a 74 percent decrease in drug use with 33 percent completely stopping the use of drugs.

The medical facilities reported a 28 percent decrease in health clinic use, a 40 percent decrease in ER use, a 25 percent decrease in hospital use, with a 38 percent decrease in ambulance use.

They were also able to report that the people living in a stable home were more willing to seek help. There was a 50 percent increase in substance use treatment and a 20 percent increase in the use of mental health services, which contributed to a whopping 62 percent decrease in the need for detox services. — www.orgcode.com.

To be honest, in all my years of working with people in poverty, which includes the homeless, this is the first time I have actually had hope for a solution.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder and CEO of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of The Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee. The Maui Homeless Alliance meets on the third Wednesday of each month at noon at Maui Economic Opportunity in Classroom No. 1, 99 Mahalani St. in Kahului.

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