Thoughts on Housing First

RECEIVED Mon., July 23, 2018

Dear Editor,
    I read your comments in the article about ARCH support and eradicating homelessness in The Austin Chronicle and really appreciated Ann Howard’s take on the Housing First model ["ARCH Support," News, July 20]. I used to work for two nonprofits for temporary housing in Seattle, Wash., and witnessed the effects of Housing First firsthand. As mentioned, the homelessness issue is a complicated one, with various confounding variables which are not addressed if only a temporary shelter is provided. Case management and wraparound services have been shown to have the most direct benefit, and even if these services are more expensive, complicated, and may not look like a solution right away, they prove longer-lasting results for individuals and families.
    While Housing First does solve one basic need, it does not necessarily address the surrounding needs a person or family may have that caused them to be in that position, or kept them there. Without proper services connected with housing, clients are often left struggling or ill-equipped to manage the rest of what they are dealing with. Rapid housing can only work while all the other pieces are in place. 
    Seattle approved a major grant to fund temporary and permanent housing using the Housing First model, but to pay for it, other programs were cut. Two-year temporary housing services with case management, addiction services, life-skills teachers, bank services, hygiene centers, and others did not have their funding renewed after decades of support, in order to build these new facilities. That meant that clients living and using these programs were pushed back on the streets and put on a waiting list for a room or apartment that hasn't been finished being built yet. 
    Howard said there need to be systems in place to manage the homelessness crisis, instead of relying on individual programs, and I think this systems approach is where we should be putting our focus and funding. We should try to learn from bigger cities who have gone through the trial and error process already to stay ahead of the issue, before it becomes a crisis like we see in Seattle.
   Thank you for your time!
Alexandra Smith MPH 
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