From Jailhouse to Supportive Housing

This article in Affordable Housing Finance details the case for permanent housing as a solution to homelessness. It also outlines CSH‘s Frequent User Service Enhancement program. To read the full article click here.

From Jailhouse to Supportive Housing
By Bendix Anderson
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE • MAY 2007

John Fallon spent years trying to help a homeless man whom we’ll call patient R, a paranoid schizophrenic and alcoholic who spent 21 years on the streets, in emergency rooms, and in the jails in and around Chicago.

The cost of arresting and re-arresting R, plus the price tag for his care at just two of the hospitals that he frequented, added up to more than $1.6 million. That’s about $72,000 per year.

“He had 26 inches of hospital records,” said Fallon, a program manager for the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH).

Supportive housing is supposedly specifically designed to help people like R stabilize their lives—it’s permanent, affordable rental housing mixed with services like drug treatment and mental health counseling. Yet even though he was a perfect candidate for it, R is also exactly the kind of person who often fails to get into supportive housing.

Since the number of chronically homeless people is still much larger than the number of supportive-housing apartments, most communities keep long waiting lists. But people like R move constantly, Fallon said. By the time they reach the top of one of these lists, they are often incarcerated or otherwise unreachable.

Also, some communities won’t accept potential residents who have been to jail or prison. Other supportive-housing developments require residents to be sober for a certain amount of time, a standard that many chronically homeless people are unlikely to meet.

As a result, most supportive-housing communities help chronically homeless people who genuinely need help, but who are slightly more stable than R, and are probably slightly less expensive to taxpayers. These people may have spent years in the shelters, but they are at least able to come to appointments, and when their names come to the top of a list, they can be found.

Fallon would like to change the rules. To help people like R, CSH has started a program called Frequent User Service Enhancement (FUSE). In New York City, FUSE has begun to track people who have both stayed in homeless shelters and been in jail at least four times over the past five years.

The FUSE program has identified nine supportive-housing providers in New York City, including industry leaders like Common Ground Communities, Inc., that are willing to house the people in the FUSE program. CSH followed homeless people like these from the jail on Rikers Island to homeless shelters and to detox programs, and eventually placed 80 of them in supportive housing over the last year.

So far, 73 of the 80 have stayed in the program, a retention rate of 92 percent, according to Ryan Moser, CSH’s program manager in New York.

Through the FUSE program, CSH hopes to show that not only is it possible to effectively target homeless people who have served time in jail, it’s also cost-effective, Moser said. The organization is now working to start FUSE programs in Chicago and Minneapolis.

To read the full article click here.