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Homeless Advocates Call for Services, Not Just Housing

May 14, 2008 — A Massachusetts non-profit is arming local advocates for homeless people with new strategies for funding to help end chronic homelessness in the territory.
Putting a stop to chronic homelessness means more than providing a place to live, explained Ann O'Hara, co-founder of the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC). Homeless people also need a full circle of services to keep them in their new homes, she said.
While many programs for the homeless have been funded under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, O'Hara advised the attendees that HUD was moving farther and farther away from offering any kinds of funds for services and sticking to funding housing.
The TAC training is designed to help the advocates find funding sources for the services to support and keep the formerly homeless in their new homes.
Permanent supportive housing focuses on helping people get and keep housing in the community, with support from a variety of sources. Frequent contact is important, according to Steve Day, another co-founder of TAC.
Just providing housing without this collaborative approach often results in the person returning to homelessness. Many programs for the homeless have a process where the client doesn't get placed in permanent housing until after they have reached the end of a continuum.
TAC's approach is that people need to go straight into housing, but with the support of community models of service, delivered right to the new tenant.
While many homeless people are in need of mental health care and other services, one of the first things they want as soon as they get moved in is a job, Day said.
"Usually they want a job first, not a psychiatrist," he said, "Homeless people have problems with being alone, and wonder what they are going to do all day."
It is important for the group helping the new tenant to focus on permanency and stability, linking goals around where they live and how to help them stay in an apartment, Day said.
Discussing how the various government, private and faith-based agencies can get funds for housing as well as services for the homeless, Day and O'Hara also demonstrated that the model of supportive housing can actually save governments money.
"One of the reasons that governors around the country are advocating this approach is that this goes to saving money," O'Hara said.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. is very interested in the program, said Angeli T. Ferdschneider, special assistant to the governor, agreeing with O'Hara.
DeJongh "wants to maximize funding" under the McKinney/Vento Act, which initialized the federal government's focus on homelessness, Ferdschneider said. The governor is also "really interested in coordinating efforts to provide services to the homeless," she said.
"Permanent supportive housing tends to save more money, even with all the services, but the strategies between agencies must be collaborative," O'Hara said.
Costs savings might look small at the agency level, but the broader view across agencies can amount to considerable savings by keeping the person in permanent housing with support.
"You are keeping that person out of jail or out of the emergency room," O'Hara said.
For more information about TAC and permanent supportive housing, visit tacinc.org.
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