As you read this blog instalment this week, it is important you remember there is almost always a lag between when I write the blog and when it is posted. I especially do not want people to think I am pointing fingers at specific communities I have been to in the past three weeks given I make my schedule publicly available on FaceBook. Let us focus on the message – not a specific place – because you may see yourself in this instalment.
As I often do when I am in a new community, I go out and speak with people experiencing homelessness. I do this often in the evenings when I don’t have other engagements. I don’t talk about it much. And I won’t go into too much detail about why, but in a nutshell, I do it to get the pulse of people that are homeless in the community and how they see issues. It is difficult to sincerely work with local service providers and other officials if I have not spoken with people that are currently homeless. This blog is for Ferdinand. Ferdinand has been housed three times in the last year, mainly through VA programs. All three times he has returned to homelessness because he did not get supports while in housing. And lest you think I just take Ferdinand’s word for it, training in the community confirmed this to be true. And this is why I say this blog is for “F Sake”. I meant Ferdinand. You can use a different word starting with “F” if you like.
See, the Ferdinand experience confirms what keeps happening in my travels – another week and another community that is all about ending homelessness. They speak a good game. They tell me about programs. They tell me about how ready they are to make changes. They tell me about their fancy landlord recruitment strategies. They tell me their Mayor is right behind them. They tell me about their takedown targets. And yet it is the third week in a row that I want to find a blunt object to drive my head against. Why? Because no one is adequately supporting people in housing nor can they tell me the method and approach they are using to do so. And they are not resourcing after-care or housing stability supports in a meaningful way.
If you want to end homelessness you cannot just put people into housing and expect them to succeed without supports. Period.
You should be ashamed to call yourself a Permanent Supportive Housing provider if you forget the “supportive” part. Period.
If you are all about getting people into housing but not about supporting people in housing you are going to fail abysmally. Period.
If you work with people that have moderate or higher acuity you need a structured, evidence-informed, proven approach to provide support in housing. You CANNOT take a passive approach and think people will come to you if they have a problem. You CANNOT think that checking to ensure the rent is paid or making sure there are no damages to the apartment is the same thing as stabilizing people, rebuilding community connectivity, and maximizing access to mainstream resources. You CANNOT think text messages or the occasional phone call is the same as visiting someone in their home.
The proof is out there: to succeed you should help people achieve housing first. This means it is the FIRST thing you do. It does NOT mean it is the ONLY thing you do. It is the start. It is the alpha. It is not the end. It is not the omega.
If you do not figure out the supports part, train on it and invest in it, all of that money spent helping people with first and last month rent? Wasted. All of that political capital expended? Wasted. All of that hard work recruiting landlords? Wasted. All of that public support to end homelessness – whether veterans or chronically homeless persons, or families, or youth, or whatever? Wasted.
Worst of all, all of that trust people experiencing homelessness put into you to end their homelessness? Wasted.
Ask yourself even these simple questions as a start:
- Is each person that is housed assigned a specific person or team of persons whose sole responsibility it is to keep that person housed?
- Is the staff to client ratio possible to provide the intensity of services required? (No more than 20 clients per support person)
- Has that specific person or team been trained on how to deliver an effective housing support intervention?
- If the person loses their housing, does this same group of people see it as their responsibility to keep supporting the program participant while concurrently trying to get them re-housed as expediently as possible?
- Does the support person or team connect with the person in their home to deliver supports?
- Is the support provided in the program participant’s home happening at least once per week during the first six months they are housed?
- Is the support person or team actively and effectively brokering and advocating for connections to other mainstream and non-profit services to assist with things like physical health, mental health, etc. – and is that brokering and advocacy based upon the program participant’s choice?
- Are we providing all of our services through a lens of reducing harm rather than treatment compliance?
- Did each program participant have an active and meaningful voice in what type of housing and neighbourhood they want to live in?
- Does the program participant have an active voice in the type, duration and intensity of services – deciding what they want to work on in their life related to their housing stability in which order?
- Does the orientation of the supports encourage and empower recovery and wellness?
- Is the service delivery planned, structured, strategic and sequential?
If you don’t know or you aren’t do us all a favour – and a particular favour to anyone you are housing in your programs – learn how to or get out of the business and less someone that does know how do it. I don’t want to meet any more Ferdinand’s – for F Sake.