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SAMHSA News - March/April 2005, Volume 13, Number 2

Initiative Helps End Chronic Homelessness (Part 2)

In California

That aggressive outreach is especially important at a site like the Contra Costa County project. In contrast to the conspicuous homeless populations of large cities, homeless individuals here are spread out across an area the size of Rhode Island. They’re also well hidden, said Project Officer Cynthia Belon, L.C.S.W., Director of Project Coming Home.

Outreach teams of case managers, peer counselors, health care professionals, and others go out to encampments and other places where homeless people congregate. Once a homeless person is deemed eligible for the project, the goal is to get that person housed as quickly as possible.

“When people were asked what they needed, they said they wanted housing first and foremost,” explained Ms. Belon. “They didn’t say, ‘I want substance abuse treatment or mental health treatment.’ They said, ‘I need a place to live.’ ” Project Coming Home first places individuals in interim housing, then in permanent housing scattered throughout the county to help them assimilate into the broader community. Case managers ensure that they get the services they need to stay housed.

An array of partners helps make that happen. The local housing authority provides housing vouchers. The community health clinic and the VA provide health services. The county provides mental health and substance abuse treatment. Community-based organizations provide everything from peer counseling to training in money management. One organization handles all the leasing arrangements with landlords because homeless people frequently have credit problems that prevent them from signing their own leases.

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In Chicago

The Chicago site also uses the housing first approach in its ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) Resources To End Chronic Homelessness project. “The usual way services are provided is, ‘If you maintain a certain level of sobriety or take your medication, then we’ll get you housed,’ ” said Team Leader Jeffrey A. Gilbert of Thresholds Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centers, which receives funding for this project from the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse at the Illinois Department of Human Services. “That’s not how we work. We say, ‘Let’s get you housed first, and then we’ll move forward and try to wrap services around you.’ ”

Targeting chronic homelessness on the South Side, the project uses an ACT model that relies on an eight-person multidisciplinary team to conduct outreach to homeless people in parks, shelters, and other settings. The goal is to get them into housing—a unit at the YMCA or Catholic Charities or a regular apartment—as soon as possible. Even before individuals are housed, the team starts getting them the services they need, whether it’s medical and dental care, access to a psychiatrist, or job training. “We use a really aggressive, sometimes intrusive form of case management,” explained Mr. Gilbert, noting that participants receive two to seven visits a week from the team once they’re housed.

So far, the project has moved 40 people into housing and plans to house 19 more before the project ends. “There are between 10,000 and 15,000 homeless people in Chicago, so getting 59 people housed may sound very trivial,” said Theodora Binion Taylor, M.Div., M.S., the Director of the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “But it’s not. It’s almost miraculous.” That’s especially true when you consider who those individuals are, added Mr. Gilbert. “Those 59 people we’re housing are not the easy people,” he said. “These are 59 of the most difficult cases.”

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A Success Story

photo of Gayle Scarbrough at home today
Gayle Scarbrough at home today.
The initiative as a whole has been equally successful at moving some of the Nation’s most vulnerable people into homes, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which is responsible for tracking the initiative’s progress. “The project has successfully moved more than 500 people, representing more than 3,000 years of homelessness, off the streets and out of long-term shelters and into the American promise of a place to live,” said Philip Mangano, the Council’s Executive Director. “Those years of homelessness represent countless dollars spent on emergency room visits, acute services from the behavioral health system, law enforcement interventions, and temporary periods of incarceration. The project is saving both dollars and lives,” he said.

For Gayle Scarbrough, those numbers don’t mean as much as the simple fact that she now has her own home. “I’ve never had my own space before,” said Ms. Scarbrough, now a full-time student planning a career as a dental assistant. “I feel clean, respected, and professional. I’ve actually got a chance—something I’ve never had before.” End of Article

See Part 1—Initiative Helps End Chronic Homelessness

See Also—Next Article »

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Inside This Issue

Initiative Helps End Chronic Homelessness
Part 1
Part 2
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SAMHSA News - March/April 2005, Volume 13, Number 2

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