Charlotte discovers one weird trick to solve homelessness. (Give them some place to live.) | News

Charlotte discovers one weird trick to solve homelessness. (Give them some place to live.)

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Four years ago, the city of Charlotte, following the lead of Utah and a few others places, unveiled something of an innovative strategy for dealing with its chronically homeless population: give them a place to live. Period. Full stop. There and across the country, this is referred to as Housing First. In 2012, the first such housing development, the 85-unit Moore Place, opened its doors, providing apartments to individuals with long histories of homelessness and at least one disability. 

Three years on, a new report from UNC Charlotte shows the results, and they are good. Per the Charlotte Observer:

Using two years of data, UNC Charlotte researchers discovered Mecklenburg County already has saved $2.4 million by using that approach on a smaller scale at Moore Place, an 85-unit housing complex a couple of miles north of uptown for people whose disabilities and long-term addictions keep them living on the streets for years at taxpayers’ expense.

The study showed tenants made 648 fewer visits to emergency rooms and spent 292 fewer days in the hospital (at taxpayer expense) after they moved into apartments.

There was also an 82 percent reduction in arrests, and 1,050 fewer nights were spent in jail by tenants who had a history of criminal activity. Calls for medics and ambulance rides to the hospital also were down, each by 76 percent.

The report is being released at time when advocates for the homeless are campaigning to raise $11 million to end chronic homelessness in Mecklenburg County by the end of 2016. That $11 million figure includes $9.5 million to establish a 100-unit apartment site modeled after Moore Place.

Long story short: By investing on the front end, you save on the back end—and do something decent for a disadvantaged population in the process. 

That prompts a rather obvious question: Why the fuck isn’t everyone doing this? 

Eleven years ago, the city of Raleigh and Wake County, along with Triangle United Way and Wake Continuum of Care, released a document ambitiously titled Ending Homelessness: A 10-Year Action Plan. Needless to say, the homeless are still with us. In December 2003, on any given night there were 1,235 homeless in Wake County. Today, that number is 1,170 people, according to the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness. Throughout the course of a year—as of 2012 data—more than 4,000 Wake residents will spend at least a night without a proper shelter of their own. In 2013-’14, more than 6,500 people in Wake received homeless services. The truth is, we haven’t moved the needle all that much. 

Here’s the good news: Just 68 are considered chronically homeless—which means that, were Wake to emulate Charlotte for this population, it could do so on the cheap. It costs $14,000 a year to house a homeless individual (in the Charlotte program, those who can contribute 30 percent of their income to offset that cost), according to the UNC Charlotte study. Do the math: $1 million or so a year to house 68 chronically homeless individuals—and that’s before factoring in the money we’d save on incarceration and ambulance services and all the rest. That’s it. Wake County has ended chronic homelessness. 

That doesn’t mean the problem of housing insecurity will be eradicated. The chronically homeless—those who are homeless long-term or repeatedly—comprise less than 10 percent of the homeless population, and continuum-of-care issues like mental health care and job skills and food insecurity will still need to be addressed. (To be fair, the latter is. In 2013, the city of Raleigh established the Oak City Outreach Center on Person Street, which opened last June, a continuation of decades-long efforts to feed the homeless and hungry in Moore Square.) But we could do away with chronic homelessness, we could do it soon, and we could do it cheaply. So what gives?

The short answer is, the city’s working on it.

In its meeting this afternoon, the Raleigh City Council will consider the Five-Year Consolidated Plan, a HUD-mandated document outlining steps the city is taking to ensure that those with low and very low incomes have shelter. (That plan, incidentally, earned the city’s housing and neighborhoods director, Larry Jarvis, full-throated praise from The News & Observer’s editorial page, and deservedly so. In it, Jarvis aggressively targets the increasing lack of affordable housing options in Raleigh, and especially in the city core, which I touched on in the INDY’s Raleigh cover story coming out tomorrow.) Per the consolidated plan:

Though the total number of homeless has not increased over the past several years, the number has remained constant and the demographics have changed. Several comments were received regarding the growing number of single women who are homeless, as well as women with children for whom circumstances have forced them to find refuge in their cars or similar places. There is a need to revisit how services are provided, to increase coordination between funding sources and to work toward a more coordinated system from the existing variety of services and agencies. This work has begun with the latest Request for Proposals (RFP) for ESG funds. The City, County, and the Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, the local CoC organization, have combined their funds into one RFP. The same partners are working on the development of a Consolidated Plan RALEIGH 3 OMB Control No: 2506-0117 (exp. 07/31/2015) multiservice center for the homeless that will function as a coordinated assessment point and a concerted attempt at implementing a Housing First model.

(Emphasis mine.)

There’s some bureaucratic gobbledygook in there, but here’s the main takeaway: The city is, in partnership with the county and the Raleigh/Wake County Partnership to End Homelessness, hashing out a path toward Housing First. What will that model look like, and how soon will it roll out?  

The document offers some clues. The two local governments, along with the Partnership, have issued a request for proposals for certain federal grant-eligible services, including homelessness prevention, emergency shelter, rapid rehousing, the the administration of the Homeless Management Information System. As part of that RFP, would-be service providers would have to provide rapid-rehousing services through a Housing First model. 

It’s worth noting that Housing First is just one component in a much broader plan to address both homelessness and the city’s burgeoning affordable and workforce housing issues, which will only become more prevalent as Raleigh grows up and out and rents shoot through the roof, especially in the urban core. 

Look for more on the consolidated plan and the city’s Housing First initiative in next week’s issue, and I’ll update on the blog as I get a better picture of how closely what Raleigh is envisioning will track with what Charlotte has accomplished. For now, peep the consolidated plan in its entirety here

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