Editorial: Housing First program merits expansion in KansasNoelle Sosa April 9, 2019 0 COMMENTS
The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is advocating for the expansion of the Housing First program to more communities in Kansas. Housing First is a good investment for Kansas, worthy of expansion and further evaluation.
A recent fire at a camp under the Kansas Avenue bridge, mere steps from the Topeka Rescue Mission, has highlighted the complexity of helping our community’s unsheltered residents. There are no simple answers to homelessness, but we hope new ideas can make further inroads.
Traditional approaches to homelessness generally offer permanent housing after an individual has completed certain steps. Stable employment, sobriety, mental health treatment, adherence to curfews and other program guidelines are common benchmarks on the road to permanent housing.
Housing First differs from this model, operating under the theory that the lack of permanent housing is, in itself, a major barrier to achieving stability. Housing First programs provide permanent housing first, then support to help participants achieve other goals. It proceeds through a hierarchy of needs: a safe place to live, then health and wellness.
National research from the Department for Housing and Urban Development on Housing First has been promising. Housing First programs do help people stay in their homes long term, with improvements in physical and mental health. In Kansas, Housing First programs were piloted in Wichita, Shawnee County and Wyandotte county.
Proponents believe Housing First also allows participants the autonomy they need to build a better life. As Sam Tsemberis, a Columbia University faculty member and advocate for Housing First expansion explained: “Most people in Kansas don’t have sobriety and treatment requirements in order to stay housed. And if they did, we’d be in a lot more trouble on the homelessness front.”
Housing First does require careful screening and significant support to ensure participants, some of whom have never lived independently, have the resources they need to live safely. Although we have undoubtedly made progress, our nation has a long and painful history of good ideas with limited follow-through when it comes to anti-poverty programs. No model can truly help homeless people without comprehensive services focused on mental health, substance abuse, chronic illness, domestic violence and other factors that create homelessness.
Each unsheltered person is different, and an effective approach to homelessness requires new ideas and approaches to serve more individuals. Investment in Housing First, as a way of adding another tool to the toolbox, is a smart decision for Kansas.