“Watching my father’s struggles was a painfully long goodbye. Fortunately, Logan Place gave a father and his children the chance to once again say hello.” Amanda A. Meader shares a beautiful story of how the Preble Street Housing First program touched her family.
A crowd estimated at 200 people gathered in Monument Square on Wednesday evening to light candles and read the names of homeless residents who died this year.
The event, held each year on the evening of the winter solstice, started in the courtyard of the Preble Street social service agency before the procession marched up to nearby Monument Square.
“This is such an important night to show our support for our brothers and sisters who are struggling with homelessness,” Caroline Fernandes, residential services director for Preble Street, told the crowd.
For the past 22 years, advocates and the people they serve have gathered for the Homeless Persons’ annual Memorial Vigil. It gives Portlanders a chance to mourn lives cut short and to confirm their commitment to finding a home for everyone who needs one.
… Donna Yellen, chief program officer for Preble Street, said the agency’s Joe Kreisler Teen Center reached capacity Wednesday night. The center has 24 beds. Yellen said the staff brought in cots to accommodate the overflow.
Florence House on Valley Street is a 40-bed shelter for women. When it reaches capacity, women are sent to the Oxford Street Shelter. Florence House exceeded its capacity Wednesday night, according to Yellen.
Yellen said the overflow area at Preble Street would be full Thursday night. During the day, Preble Street “was packed, the need is so great.” Preble Street serves three meals a day to the city’s homeless population.
“Homelessness, especially in these weather conditions, is life-threatening,” Yellen said …
Despite discouraging news headlines about homelessness, some innovative Maine organizations have had meaningful success in reducing homelessness and improving the lives of the homeless population. We’ll learn about these solutions and what it would take to expand them.
Guests: Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street in Portland
Stephanie Primm, executive director of Hospitality House in Rockland
Portland had the dubious distinction in the days before Christmas of topping a list of U.S. cities “going above and beyond to push the most vulnerable Americans out of the public eye during the most compassionate time of the year.” The website U.S. Uncut singled out Maine’s largest city for destroying homeless encampments along Interstate 295.
Clearing out homeless camps happens throughout the country. A better approach is giving the homeless a home.
Utah put that simple idea to the test 10 years ago, and it has attracted significant media attention for it this year. As it turns out, the same experiment has been happening in Portland on a smaller scale and without the media fanfare.
Preble Street began housing the homeless a decade ago. Just like Utah, the organization has found that housing the homeless dramatically reduces chronic homelessness and saves money.
The difference in Utah is that the state invested in this model and, perhaps more important, stuck with it.
“If you want to end homelessness, you put people in housing,” Gordon Walker, director of the Utah Housing and Community Development Division, told The Washington Post in April. “This is relatively simple.”
A decade after Utah launched what became known as Housing First, its chronic homeless population has dropped by 91 percent. The chronically homeless — those without a home for a year or homeless at least three times in four years — are a small fraction of the state’s homeless population but account for half the costs.
The state saves $8,000 a year per homeless person by giving them a place to live, according to Walker. The chronically homeless are frequent emergency room visitors, they often spend time in jail, and they spend many nights in shelters.
Although Preble Street has seen similar success, it struggles to fund the three homeless housing initiatives it runs.
When Logan Place — which provides efficiency apartments for 30 chronically homeless people along with 24-hour, on-site staff support — opened a decade ago, shelter stays dropped 5 percent statewide, said Mark Swann, Preble Street’s executive director.
One year after it opened, a study of 24 residents found that their health care costs had dropped by 70 percent, police contacts fell 81 percent, and the residents received more mental health care services at two-thirds the cost. Seven years later, only two of the residents had become homeless again.
“This is the single best thing we’ve ever done,” Swann said.
The conventional approach to homelessness is to put programs in place that address the many reasons why people become homeless: substance abuse help, mental health counseling, job search support, rental vouchers. The intent is to help those who are homeless become ready for housing.
But not having a home is stressful. That stress makes it unlikely that homeless people can successfully address other problems, such as addiction and mental health issues. The experience of Logan Place residents shows that providing housing first allows residents to then focus on other problems in their lives.
A second set of efficiency apartments, this time for chronically homeless women, Florence House, opened five years later. Florence House and Logan Place rely on a mix of private donations and government agency funds. There’s no dedicated funding stream they can tap into since Maine hasn’t adopted Housing First as a statewide policy.
Logan Place receives funding from the city of Portland, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Florence House receives $840,000 annually from the state Department of Health and Human Services, but that funding only came at the insistence of former Gov. John Baldacci because of the lack of a dedicated funding stream for Housing First initiatives. Residents pay rent of 30 percent of their income, which includes government benefits.
Preble Street has plans to open a third set of apartments in 18 months, but Swann said he didn’t know where the money would come from to operate them. Preble Street also houses 40 formerly homeless in the community through a program supported by the Maine State Housing Authority.
Maine, like Utah, has a model for addressing homelessness that works. It should receive consistent financial support and expand to other parts of the state. It’s certainly better than chasing the homeless from makeshift shelters days before Christmas.
A previous version of this editorial said Florence House received only a one-time state investment. Florence House efficiency apartments do receive ongoing state support.
For most people who use Maine’s shelters, homelessness is temporary.
But there are others who need more support– the chronically homeless.
A decade ago, the State of Utah made a commitment to eliminate chronic homelessness. And what’s being done there is inspiring people here in Maine and across the country.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R-Utah) said “We haven’t solved homelessness, but chronic homelessness, I think we’ve come as close as anyone out there right now.”
It is a bold claim, but one that springs from a simple concept: create permanent housing for people stuck on the streets, who are in and out of shelters. Jails and emergency rooms.
The chronically homeless are people who have a disabling condition and have been continuously homeless for a year or more or have had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
They suffer from mental illness, addictions and substance abuse problems.
And while they are a small part of the homeless population– 15 to 20 percent– they use the most resources.
Mark Swann of Preble Street in Portland said, “It’s the 80/20 rule as it plays out in homelessness as it does in so many other things, where there’s 15 or 20% of the population that uses up 80% of the services.’
Ten years ago, people in Utah decided to attack this problem in a new way.
The goal was to eliminate chronic homelessness by the end of 2015, a goal they have met using the concept of “Housing First.”
Lloyd Pendleton was the man chosen to spearhead the plan. He said “Housing First is you take a person right off the street who’s been there 20 years, alcoholic, mental illness, drug use and you put them into housing first. And then you wrap services around them. And that’s different than what used to be called ‘housing ready.’ They had to be clean dry and sober before you get housing.”
First, the built a so-called ‘scattered site’ pilot project, placing 17 people with individual landlords. Pendleton said “If we’re going to do a pilot, we’re going to take the most challenging, difficult chronically homeless people we can find, and put them in scattered sites, before we build these hundred units.
And if we can house them, we can house anybody.”
When that pilot project succeeded, Sunrise Metro was built, 100 apartments near shelters and other services, away from residential areas.
Vietnam veteran Tom Lutz lives in sunrise Metro. He said it gave him more than a roof over his head and a chance to tackle his substance abuse problems– it gave him purpose.
Lutz said “It helped me a lot. I started doing stuff, getting involved with programs here. I’m the president of the resident Council. I’m also the supervisor of the janitors here.’
In a red state such as Utah, they had to overcome some skepticism. Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox said it involved dispelling some myths. “I think you have to overcome this conception that we are just giving stuff away, and that we’re not holding people responsible, and that it would actually compound the problem. I think that was one of the things we were up against.”
Cox is the head of Utah’s Homeless Coordinating Committee, demonstrating the support this initiative has at the State House.
He said they won over the skeptics with a lot of data.
“It costs about $20,000 a year in taxpayer funds for various entities for a chronically homeless person. and when you can get them into housing for $10,000 or less a year, those numbers are pretty clear you could save $10,000 per chronically homeless person by getting them into a permanent housing.”
The money comes from a variety of sources, including federal Housing and Urban Development grants, state money, low-income tax credits, private foundations, and a state income tax check-off that raised millions of dollars, much of which is targeted for case managers in the apartment buildings.
More ‘Housing First’ projects followed the success of Sunrise Metro, facilities with a different focus.
Palmer Court used to be a Holiday Inn.
Now it is 201 apartment units, many of them for families.
And federal Head Start programs are right on site, helping kids get ready to go to public school while giving them a stable home life.
The people here say it’s a way of breaking the cycle of poverty.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Kelly Benson Apartments, for the chronically homeless who are 55 and older.
And one of the newest developments is the Bud Bailey complex. This is 136 units, just 16 for the chronically homeless. The rest are for refugee families and people paying market rates.
The path to these facilities begins at the aptly named emergency shelter “The Road Home.”
Executive Director Matt Minkevitch said “Emergency shelter is not our end game. It is not our goal. We want to help people get out of shelters get out of homelessness, and into housing.”
The Road Home operates Palmer Court, making a direct link for many families to move out of the shelter.
When a family comes in for an intake to shelter, they are given a housing assessment at the same time. So from the day they come in in crisis they are looking at the way out.
Minkevitch said the problems they deal with in Utah are the same in every state.
“I think there are some common myths, everyone’s from out of town, the majority in from out of town. That reminds me of Lake Wobegone where ‘all the kids are above average.’ That simply can’t be true. We know that people are coming in from other states and other communities and coming to Utah. So too so we understand there are people that are leaving Utah, and going to other states and finding similar problems there, and are on the sidewalks in California and Maine and Massachusetts.”
The ‘Housing First’ program has been a big success. Utah has reduced its chronic homeless count by 91% since 2005. Some of those not yet placed choose not to move in, and likely never will.
And the housing is permanent. Though some people will get squared away enough to move on, others will live here for the rest of their lives.
Could the Utah model work in Maine? In fact, it already is, in a smaller way.
Thursday on NEWS CENTER at six, we will look at Maine’s ‘Housing First’ projects, and focus on what it might take to duplicate the success that Utah has achieved and put an end to chronic homelessness in Maine.
This is Part Two of a series on Housing First. In Part One, WCSH traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to learn more about that city’s acclaimed Housing First programs out there. Preble Street has been running Housing First programs in Portland for more than a decade. What kind of commitment from Maine’s leaders will it take to expand those successes statewide? Watch Part One here.
Over the last decade, the state of Utah has made a bold effort to eliminate the problem of chronic homelessness.
That represents people with a disability, mental illness or addiction who have been on the streets for a year or more or have had multiple episodes of homelessness over a three year period.
Utah has created a well-coordinated network of housing and services, and a wide variety of types of permanent supportive housing– for singles, families and seniors.
It has allowed them to meet their goal, set ten years ago, to virtually eliminate chronic homeless — and Veterans homelessness– by December of this year.
Where they used to spend 20-thousand dollars a year per person caring for the chronically homeless, it now costs half that.
The people behind the program say if it can work in Utah, it can work in Maine. And in fact, some of the same steps have already been taken here.
Preble Street in Portland provides a variety of services to the poor, hungry and homeless. Director Mark Swann said about 15 percent of Maine’s homeless are chronically homeless, which is an expensive problem. “They’re using up a lot of resources at the shelters, they’re involved in jail, at detox programs, and police calls, and Medcu calls. And those things cost a lot of money and take a lot of time and resources. But they’re not solutions. They’re just doing the shelter shuffle, moving a person from one shelter to another, to detox, to jail, to shelter, they’re not getting better in that scenario.”
So Preble Street tried “Housing First.” The goal is to put a roof over people’s heads, and then help them get treatment for whatever has kept them on the streets for so long.
When Logan Place opened ten years ago, the impact was evident right away. Swann said “the numbers at our shelter in Portland dropped 10%, and they stayed down for four years. Just from one 30 unit apartment building. That is a significant effect. And that’s in the city, that 10% corresponds to a 5% drop for the state because half the homeless population is here in Portland. You know you can make a huge difference with just a few of these projects.’
Five years later, Florence House opened another example of Permanent Supportive Housing, this one for women only. And now plans are in the works for a new facility on Bishop Street.
Mark Swann said, “it’s 30 units, and our focus for that particular project is not just chronically homeless, but chronically homeless adults who are suffering from significant medical issues and are very fragile medically. And we are lining up support from healthcare providers to join with us in that.”
But as yet there are no operating funds to make the project a reality.
In Utah, where chronic homelessness has been nearly eliminated, the state is a full partner. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R-Utah) said “I think the state has a couple of roles. There’s obviously the funding piece; there’s lots of different moving pieces when it comes to funding. But more than that, I think the willpower to move forward, we have the opportunity to bring people together to collaborate, to put a stamp of approval, and give it a kick in the rear end I guess for lack of a better term.”
And there is another piece of the puzzle that has played a big part in Utah’s success– the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or The Mormons.
Rick Foster is in charge of LDS Humanitarian Services for North America. He says “as disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s our responsibility. We take that very seriously, to bear one another’s burdens. When things get rough for another individual, we want to step in and do what we can to help stabilize and then to help build a sense of self-reliance, so people can move forward in their lives, and hopefully give back to others in need.”
Welfare programs run by the LDS Church include Bishop’s Storehouses, which are like free supermarkets, with nearly every item stocked manufactured by church operations, from the canned corn to the laundry detergent.
The Church also operates Deseret Industries Thrift Stores.
And the mattresses and furniture in the “Housing First” buildings are made by the church. Many of the people who benefit from this work on the farms, in the cannery, in the wood shops, learning new job skills. Foster said “the work component is critical in all of the welfare work that we do. We believe that an individual should do all that they can for themselves, and not just rely on others or the government or institutions to meet their needs.
Maine does not have one large, far-reaching operation like the LDS Church.
But Mark Swann points out that “we have the Housing Authority support, and the faith community, United Way and lots of private non-profits, but what we’ve been lacking really is the buy- in from the state department of health and human services.”
Maine also has people the business community who want to play a role.
John Coleman is director of the “VIA” ad agency in Portland, and volunteers to help at Logan Place. He has seen how well it works. Coleman said “I want to run a business in a city that cares for everyone in the city. And my associates want to live in a place that takes care of everyone in the city.
The innovation that a housing first model like Logan place has proven is incredible. The economics, it’s just smart business. We will save money and make for a better community if we do more of these housing projects.”
And there are lawmakers, such as Rep. Peter Stuckey (D-Portland), who want to push for more state involvement, if only to make up for past oversights.
“When we started the deinstitutionalization back in the ’70s and ’80s, I think the first thing we didn’t do was understand the importance of having a stable, supportive place to live.”
John Gallagher, director of the Maine State Housing Authority, says replicating the Utah model “would take a pretty big effort, and certainly upper-level leadership to try to pull it together. It’s difficult.”
He says Utah has significant resources from the private sector that Maine doesn’t have.
“The issue for us in Maine is the funding. Maine housing can supply quite a bit of resource toward the actual housing. The issue for us is the services. And those services need to follow people, and in some cases, it’s difficult.”
Commissioner Mary Mayhew says DHHS has committed significant resources to ‘Housing First’ projects such as Florence House.
But she says the department wants to focus on independent choice and integration into the community by placing people with individual landlords, sometimes called “scattered site” housing.
“So we certainly are interested in any ideas and projects. But I do have concerns about anything that detracts from consumer choice, The independence of deciding where they’d like to live, to be able to have housing vouchers that follow the individual to where they want to live, and that are reflective of their needs, their interests.”
Mark Swann of Preble Street wants state officials to take a closer look at how ‘Housing First’ works and saves money.”We’ve got our hand out saying, come on down; we want to work with you. We want to have a partner in this.’
And Utah’s Lt. Governor Spencer Cox extends an invitation to Maine’s governor and human services officials.
“Come spend some time in Utah. We’d like to show you what we’re doing, we’d love to show you our success story, and we think it can happen in Maine.”
This week on TideSmart Talk, we focused on housing and homelessness in Maine. In this two-part show, Mark Swann from Preble Street joined us to describe what he, the staff, and over 6,000 volunteers do to help serve 600,000 meals annually and to people and to combat homelessness and poverty. Dana Totman of Avesta Housing described how over 3,000 seniors in Maine are seeking affordable housing, but Avesta is only able to help ~300.
Preble Street‘s Executive Director is no stranger to TideSmart Talk, but he joined us recently to discuss the state of their programs in 2015. This is Preble Street’s 40th anniversary and it has been 10 years since they opened Logan Place and started practicing a “housing first” method of getting folks back on their feet.
In Portland, Maine, Preble Street marks the 10th year of its housing-first project, which aims to solve, not simply address, the problem of chronic homelessness. Two staff members at Logan Place help define the housing-first model and explore its effectiveness as a therapeutic intervention, which transforms lives. Logan Place, Preble Street’s first residential housing project, has cultivated positive community relations.
Caroline Fernandes, coordinator, Logan Place
Mary Beth Sullivan, supervisor, Logan Place
Kathy Kelly, guest interviewer
… It was the mid-1970s when Joe Kreisler, a social work professor at the University of Southern Maine, hatched the idea that his students should have meaningful, hands-on internships working with people struggling with homelessness, hunger and poverty …