[Vision2020] So long to Sojourners' Alliance?
moscowcares at moscow.com
Mon Jul 11 02:02:33 PDT 2016
And still . . .
Nothing from the Moscow City Council!
It should be noted, however, that a previous mayor did approve additional funding (on August 17, 2009) for Sojourners' Alliance when Sojourners was experiencing other problems.
Courtesy of today's (July 11, 2016) Lewiston Tribune.
So long to Sojourners' Alliance?
MOSCOW - For the first time in years, things are going well for Dan Peterson.
He's sober, he's receiving Social Security benefits after battling the system multiple times and there's an apartment ready for him when he leaves Sojourners' Alliance, Moscow's homeless shelter.
"I'm done with the drinking and the drugging, and I feel pretty good most of the time," the Moscow resident said. "I'm doing the best I can with what I've got left. I'm not a quitter."
Similar success stories are in jeopardy.
Sojourners', the only homeless shelter in north central Idaho that includes housing for single men, lost essential federal funding earlier this spring. As a result, the organization has stopped admitting new residents and focused solely on placing those in its programs into alternate housing. The nonprofit will close during the months of September and October as it searches for replacement funding sources - and there's a chance it may never reopen.
The loss of funding comes as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development works to implement a new paradigm for providing services to people who face homelessness. Steve Bonnar, executive director of Sojourners', believes his programs still serve an important niche in the community.
THE HOUSING FIRST PRINCIPLE
This year marks a significant shift in focus to the Housing First principle.
Housing First, as HUD regional spokesman Leland Jones explained, is a principle that guides homelessness service providers to get people off the streets and into permanent housing as quickly as possible.
"The first thing you realize about people that are homeless is they don't have a home," Jones said. "And when you think about it, you realize a home is a pretty important place. It serves as some kind of foundation that allows them to help rebuild the rest of their lives."
Additional services - like treatment for addictions or mental health conditions - are available by request. But unlike many homeless shelters, people who use alcohol or drugs are often not required to become sober before being admitted into a Housing First program.
"It's better for people to be able to have a place where, if they want to drink, they can drink," Jones said, "and it's better that that be indoors."
The main types of programs that employ the Housing First principle are homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing. Homelessness prevention programs work to keep those facing the threat of homelessness in their current residences by assisting with rent or payment of utilities. Rapid re-housing programs place someone who is homeless into permanent housing as quickly as possible, and then offer additional services. Permanent supportive housing programs offer long-term, affordable housing to those who are homeless and have been diagnosed with a disability, while also providing voluntary treatment and other services.
THE PROGRAMS AT SOJOURNERS' ALLIANCE
Sojourners' offers both a permanent supportive housing program and a transitional housing program. At the transitional housing site off of North Van Buren Street in Moscow, people are able to move in for as long as it takes them to get back on their feet.
The program comes with the expectation that residents meet with a case manager and work to address the issues that may have caused them to become homeless - including mental health conditions, substance abuse, physical or developmental disabilities, job loss, lack of education, poor credit and lack of rental history. Sobriety is also required.
It's a different model than what Jones understands transitional housing to be. In larger cities like Seattle, where he's based, transitional housing offers beds to people who must check in at a certain time each night, may provide a meal, and then will give a wake-up call in the morning. People are left to search for a job, education or treatment on their own.
"Then they have to do it all over again later that night," Jones said. " In the end, you keep rolling the rock up the hill, and as soon as morning comes, the rock rolls back down. In some sense, you're not getting anywhere."
Jones agreed Sojourners' seems to provide a stable residence, the sort of base of operations that HUD is interested in.
It's worked that way for Peterson, 62. Sojourners' transitional housing is also the only program in Latah, Nez Perce, Lewis, Clearwater or Idaho counties that shelters single men.
A former "rule-breaker," Peterson estimated he had a dozen DUIs on his record.
"I have no desire to do that anymore," he said. "I'm done with all of that because of being here."
WHY THE HOUSING FIRST PRINCIPLE IS BEING IMPLEMENTED
The federal government's investment in Housing First models is twofold.
"This is where we're going in part because we think it makes more sense, and in part because it's what the Congress is telling us to do," Jones said. "The Congress doesn't like shelters, as a body."
A successful, effective program is one that gets someone out of homelessness forever, according to HUD. The goal is for an individual to move along a continuum of outcomes - like securing permanent housing, getting educated, finding a job, getting treatments - that moves them farther and farther away from homelessness.
Research has shown that Housing First models produce more of this kind of success, Jones said. According to HUD's 2015 report on the Family Options study, which examines impacts of various housing types on homeless families, 77 percent of families left rapid re-housing programs without returning to homelessness. The 2014 report of HUD's homeless veterans study indicated that 93 percent of veteran families and 88 percent of single veterans did not return to homelessness for at least a year after participating in rapid re-housing.
Bonnar argues data he's collected shows substantial success rates amongst a varied population, which includes single men and women, families, people with mental health conditions and people with addictions. Since February 2010, Bonnar said 60 percent of transitional housing residents have left Sojourners' with an income and moved into their own housing. The recidivism rate is 8 percent.
This year, HUD was awarded $1.9 billion to funnel through Continuums of Care, the regional group of service providers for the homeless.
That figure "may be close to the most we've awarded in a particular year," Jones said, but he added it's still not enough to address every problem associated with homelessness.
"The question becomes - for us and also for the Continuums - what are the services that really, really work?" Jones said.
For 16 years or so, Jones said it's been up to the Continuums of Care to determine which service projects are most important and rank them by highest funding priority. During this year's grant cycle, $1.6 billion was awarded to the highest priority Tier 1 projects. That left $300 million for the competition amongst Tier 2 projects, which were not guaranteed to get any funding.
This region's Continuums of Care, established by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, met in October to determine its priorities. Bonnar said the board "reluctantly" decided to rank transitional housing as a Tier 2 project.
In early May, HUD published its grant awards for Tier 2 projects. Sojourners' Alliance, along with seven other agencies in Idaho, were denied funding renewals. The Moscow organization's grant - $78,000 in federal monies, plus a $19,000 match from Idaho Housing and Finance Association - expired June 1.
One of the main factors influencing this year's grant awards was use of a Housing First model, according to a news release by HUD in May.
On his grant renewal application, Bonnar reported Sojourners' transitional housing program didn't use that model.
"That was a major penalty," he said.
Nationally, funding for transitional housing was nearly cut in half this year, according to the release. Only $171 million was awarded to transitional housing programs, with the intent that more people will be served by rapid re-housing programs.
THE CHICKEN AND THE EGG
The difference between Bonnar's transitional housing program and Housing First models boils down to a classic debate among homelessness service providers: Is it more effective to provide services first and housing later, or housing first and services later?
"Both can work," Jones said. "Some work better with some groups than others."
Bonnar argues his model works better for the population he serves, the majority of which are dealing with mental health conditions, substance addictions or both. Sojourners' has a 30-page list of rules that reflect social norms, Bonnar said, and include wearing underwear beneath clothing and disposing of garbage in garbage cans.
"The transitional (housing) is a critical piece for those that need that structure," he said.
People who come to Sojourners' have lived outside the rules of society - either because they never learned the rules in the first place or because of a criminal history - and it hasn't worked for them. Bonnar believes that's an important teaching moment.
"When people come in here, they've exhausted all their resources," he said. "They're humbled. From that, the humility allows them to learn."
But where Bonnar sees an opportunity for a program to intervene, Jones sees an opportunity for a person to initiate their own intervention.
"Hopefully they will be able to come in on their own terms, and then as they spend more time," Jones said, "they will realize that, 'My own terms don't always work the way they're supposed to. They don't always work for me. Sometimes they work against me. Maybe I ought to think of other ways to behave.' "
Jones' view is that transitional housing makes residents live by someone else's rules and schedules. "It's very hard for you to think about restarting your life or taking charge of your life again."
FUTURE OF SOJOURNERS' ALLIANCE
The Moscow shelter's permanent supportive housing grant is not affected by the loss of the transitional housing grant. The $102,000 federal grant that funds permanent supportive housing expires at the end of November, with the bulk of those monies covering rents.
The loss of the transitional housing grant is significant, Bonnar said, because it pays his employees. There are few grants available that can be used to pay his office manager, bookkeeper and security guard. Bonnar's $40,000 salary is covered by fundraising.
Bonnar said it's his residents who are getting the worst end of the deal. But thanks to recent fundraising and support from Idaho Housing and Finance Association, each will leave Sojourners' with a $620 moving stipend when the organization closes at the end of August.
Bonnar is applying for a $30,000 rapid re-housing grant that will be available Oct. 1. That HUD grant also does not cover administrative costs.
Bonnar remains wary of Housing First models, so he's working to secure local funding to pay for the transitional housing program and Sojourners' employees. He's asked the Latah County Commission for an additional $2,500, which would bring their yearly contribution to $12,500.
"If we're doing good work, I believe we'll continually be supported," Bonnar said.
He worries about what will happen if Sojourners' closes permanently, noting it could mean busier emergency rooms or more people in jail.
Peterson credits Bonnar with changing his life.
"He was pretty stern with me for a couple months until I got pointed in the right direction," Peterson said. "I feel so much better about me. It's been awhile since that's happened."
Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .
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