By Heidi Nelson
Thank you to the Cape Cod Times for printing My View, October 23, regarding the Housing First model. Readers will be glad to know that Housing First has been embraced on Cape Cod. Duffy Health Center has provided Housing First—permanent supportive housing vouchers and wraparound services for persons with long-term homelessness—for more than ten years. In Massachusetts, services in Housing First are funded with MassHealth (Medicaid) dollars and research has shown, as the My View writer points out, that the program effectively reduces the cost of public services for these individuals.
At Duffy Health Center, we have 45 slots for Housing First clients. With housing vouchers provided to the region by the US Department of Health & Human Services, and housing vouchers provided by our partner agencies such as the Housing Assistance Corporation, collectively we have effectively housed hundreds of individuals since the program began. We have a wonderful group of local landlords that partner with us in this effort. Why not? We make sure the rent is paid on time, and if there is ever a problem, a Housing First case manager is ready on the scene.
Is this program perfect and does it meet all of our needs? Certainly not. Our chronically homeless clients have to have the right kind of MassHealth in order for us to bill for services. Another barrier is availability of apartments; the housing crisis over the past seven years has led to a preference for rental housing and as a result there is more competition for units. And finally, due to lack of availability in the market, the cost of rental housing is rising higher than the vouchers can pay. We need more funding for services, more vouchers, and more housing availability to keep expanding the program. Housing First is a model that works! And we use it effectively on Cape Cod.
Housing First is simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment.
Dr. Sam Tsemberis founded Pathways to Housing in 1992, with the creation of the Housing First model to address homelessness among people with psychiatric disabilities and addiction disorders.
Pathways’ Housing First is simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in the areas of mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment. Housing is provided in apartments scattered throughout a community. This “scattered site” model fosters a sense of home and self-determination, and it helps speed the reintegration of Pathways clients into the community.
The Pathways model has been remarkably successful in ending chronic homelessness. Since its founding, housing retention rates have remained at 85 – 90 percent even among individuals who have not succeeded in other programs. Not only is Housing First effective at keeping people housed and working toward recovery, it has also proven to be incredibly cost-effective. Providing homes and support services to the chronically homeless costs less than the expensive cycling through of emergency rooms, shelters, jails, and psychiatric hospitals.
Find out more about Duffy’s Housing First program here. If you or someone you know would consider becoming a landlord for our housing first clients, please call Elyse DeGroot at 508-771-7517, ext. 104.