Housing First: A Permanent Solution to Homelessness in Kings County
A number of factors contribute to homelessness, but one solution seems to be working in counties and cities across the country: permanent housing for the homeless with NO pre-conditions.
Wait, give a homeless person a house? It seems too obvious to be true, right?
As simple as it sounds, it works. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has seen it work and is encouraging grant-seeking, homeless assistance agencies across the country to jump on the permanent supportive housing bandwagon. In permanent supportive housing programs, clients are given homes (generally small apartment-like dwellings) and assigned to a case worker. That's it. No requirement to demonstrate proof of income, no promises of sobriety, and not even a requirement to participate in case management services.
Kings County has taken notice and, under the leadership of the Kings Tulare Homeless Alliance and with the help of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) managed at Kings United Way, shelters and programs in the county are adopting a "Housing First" model of permanent supportive housing. This model addresses the underlying conditions of chronic homelessness-- mental illness, disabling medical conditions, and substance abuse, among others-- by providing shelter FIRST, which allows for easier and more consistent access to services.
It's amazing what a person can accomplish when they have a place to sleep, shower, and eat. A place to keep their belongings. A place to rest without fearing for their safety. A place to feel secure.
Naturally, programs like this tend fill up quickly. The annual Point-In-Time survey conducted by the Kings Tulare Homeless Alliance identified a need for 80 more beds in permanent supportive housing in Kings County. The waiting list for existing shelters is long and continues to grow.
That’s where the Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization and Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT) comes in to play. The tool allows shelters to fill beds based on an individual’s need rather than their good timing. Using the Vi-SPDAT, homeless persons are interviewed, assessed, and prioritized in HMIS. At the time of the interview, the homeless individual or family provides the best way to contact them and a picture (optional for interviewees).
This interview includes questions about the individual’s medical history, the amount of time they have spent on the streets, etc. The goal is that when a previous tenant finds stability and moves on from the program or additional housing is identified, the people with the hardest-to-solve cases of homelessness are identified and invited to join.
Here’s the challenge: there are 862 sheltered (in emergency or transitional programs) and unsheltered (living on the streets) homeless persons in the bi-county region. The sheltered homeless are relatively easy to find for interviews and a number of them already have information available in HMIS. The 445 unsheltered homeless are a different story.
During Registry Week, July 27-31, 2015, volunteers in Kings and Tulare Counties set off on foot to count and interview the homeless populations of the larger metropolitan areas of the region. With an initial goal to complete 150 surveys during the inaugural Registry week, the event organizers at the Kings Tulare Homeless Alliance and Kings United Way collected 184 surveys, all thanks to the volunteers who donated their time and compassion.
Surveys are currently being entered in HMIS and the database of information will be used in Tulare and Kings County to match homeless persons to openings in permanent housing. Soon, a Housing Navigator will begin outreaching to survey participants, working with existing shelters, finding new residences, and working with landlords to help get people off the streets and back on their feet again. Surveys will be completed and recorded in HMIS on an ongoing basis.
All in all, Registry Week was hugely successful, but it is critical to note that the effort to end homelessness in Kings County involves partnerships and cooperation at every level. Though the project has been coordinated by the Kings Tulare Homeless Alliance, ending homelessness requires the support of local and state governments, community based organizations, and concerned citizens. None of the work that has been and still needs to be accomplished is possible without everyone working as one team and the Kings County team is up for the challenge.
Stay tuned for updates on the progress of the Kings County fight against homelessness….