The Treasure Valley stands at a critical juncture: how should we address homelessness in our community? Much has been made of one particular proposal — the “tiny house” movement — in recent months. It is true that “tiny houses” may be one viable option for some individuals and families who are down on their luck. In cases such as these, a tiny home may be sufficient to fulfill the need for affordable housing and facilitate financial stability.

However, what about those who are also struggling with homelessness in addition to struggling with extenuating circumstances? How do we better provide services for people struggling with addiction or mental health issues that might make it harder to maintain continuous stable housing?

As members of our community rally to address homelessness, “tiny houses” have frequently been suggested as a solution for all homeless individuals. However, it is a very dangerous assumption that every individual or family experiencing homelessness can have their needs met by a “tiny house” alone. The missing component is supportive services for high needs individuals and families.

Although “tiny houses” may be viable for serving those who are in need of temporary housing, there is a certain homeless sub-population that requires more than a “tiny house.” People experiencing chronic homelessness will not find stability in a “tiny house” environment, and their needs require that we look for a housing solution that provides both permanent housing and the supportive services they need. Read the Opportunity Village rules: Tiny homes may come with a few rules.

When discussing how to best serve the homeless in our community, it is essential to recognize that each individual is a human being with a unique set of needs. As the community discussion has progressed, it has become clear that there is a general lack of understanding of the full slate of policy options that address homelessness, and a lack of attention to policy research. Before the discussion continues, and before we do a serious disservice to the homeless population in the Treasure Valley, it is vital that we take a moment to assess the evidence available so that our community can move forward, serving our region in the most effective manner possible.

HUD defines chronic homelessness as:
An individual with a disability, without permanent shelter, who has been homeless for at least 12 months or for at least 4 separate occasions over the past 4 years, or a family whose adult head of household meets the previous criteria or whose composition has fluctuated will the head of household has been homeless. — Federal Register, Vol. 80, No. 223

There are many unfair stereotypes ascribed to homeless individuals that further stigmatize an already vulnerable population. The reality is that homelessness has many different faces. For one individual, homelessness might consist of living out of a van they found on Craigslist while completing their bachelor’s degree, or sleeping on a friend’s couch while they search for employment. For others, homelessness is a cycle of bouncing from shelter to shelter, often compounded with the added challenge of drug addiction, mental health issues, and/or a lack of a support system. Whilst homelessness comes in many different forms, the underlying constant is the absence of a safe place to call home.

Previous approaches across the country, such as Transitional Housing, Treatment-first Programs, and interim housing, have all tried to address the specific needs of those experiencing chronic homelessness.

When addressing individuals who are struggling with chronic homelessness, the evidence clearly points to one particular provision that has repeatedly yielded impressive success stories: Permanent Supportive Housing with a Housing First approach. The City of Boise has recognized the impact of Housing First and, along with valuable partners (such as Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, CATCH Inc., HUD, Terry Reilly and Idaho Housing and Finance Association), is presently moving toward implementing such a program in our community.

HOUSING FIRST: REMOVING BARRIERS TO HOUSING

Multiple cities that have implemented some form of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) with a Housing First approach over the last 10-15 years have experienced great success and positive feedback from their communities; in 2002, the Coalition for the Homeless, a national advocacy group, echoed that feedback, finding that PSH programs that target chronic and episodic shelter users are the most efficient and cost-effective ways to reduce shelter use.
A TBR Homelessness Colloquy
This article is part of a TBR series on homelessness in Idaho. New articles will appear throughout the week.

At the core of the Housing First approach is the belief that every individual has the right to feel safe, secure and have a home. Therefore, Housing First removes barriers that stand between a homeless individual and housing, such as sobriety or participation in any treatment programs. Support is provided to tenants in two powerful ways.

First, their new home is permanent. The goal of a Housing First approach to PSH is to enable tenants to live safely and as independently as possible. It is necessary for PSH to indeed be permanent to allow tenants to feel secure and free from the worry of returning to homelessness. By providing for tenants’ basic needs for shelter, a Housing First approach to PSH allows them to focus entirely on engaging with supportive services. For some, their new housing will be their home forever, while for others it could be one step towards living independently.

Second, wrap-around supportive services proactively create relationships with tenants and provide psychological and physical health services upon request. These wrap-around services are extensive, individually focused and often provided 24/7 with easy access for all tenants. The combination of these wrap-around services with permanent housing has the power to invoke long-term positive change for a tenant as he or she engages with the services purely out of choice and not in order to maintain housing. The Housing First model of providing PSH is still relatively new, however there is already a significant amount of evidence-based research supporting its effectiveness.

Further Reading

Stefancic, A., & Tsemberis, S. (2007). Housing First for Long-Term Shelter Dwellers with Psychiatric Disabilities in a Suburban County: A Four-Year Study of Housing Access and Retention. Journal of Primary Prevent, 28, 265-279.

Pearson, C., Montgomery, A. E., & Locke, G. (2009). Housing Stability Among Homeless Individuals With Serious Mental Illness Participating in Housing First Programs. Journal of Community Psychology, 37(3), 404-417.

Padgett, D. K., Stanhope, V., Henwood, B. F., & Stefancic, A. (2011). Substance use outcomes among homeless clients with serious mental illness: Comparing Housing First with treatment first programs. Community mental health journal, 47(2), 227-232.

Tsemberis, S. (2010). Housing First: ending homelessness, promoting recovery and reducing costs. How to house the homeless, 37-56.

PROVIDING HOUSING FIRST PERMANENT SUPPORTIVE HOUSING (PSH): SCATTER SITE & SINGLE-SITE

There are multiple models used to providing Housing First PSH. The two main ones are through single-site and scattered-site housing units. A single-site PSH model, such as Connections Housing in San Diego, is one that typically offers all services in a single complex, or dormitory, with the inclusion of on-site service providers. Scattered-site PSH, which Salt Lake City’s widely touted, statewide Housing First strategy includes, usually consists of affordable rental units located in various spaces throughout a city. Scattered site units often require a sufficient number of units available in the rental market, as well as landlord support.

WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

As we move forward in our search to provide services to our community’s most vulnerable population, it is imperative that we remind ourselves that there is no single solution. As we have detailed here, Housing First is the evidence-based approach best equipped to serve people experiencing chronic homelessness. This is a venture that requires collaborative efforts from residents, businesses and services in the Treasure Valley to collectively support those experiencing chronic homelessness.

Eldridge Cleaver once said, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” As our community continues on the path to ending homelessness, we ask that all stakeholders take the time to be diligent in researching solutions while considering diverse needs.

Tiny homes are certainly an innovative form of housing that might work to house those who are down on their luck, but tiny homes are not a viable option for delivering Permanent Supportive Housing to the chronically homeless population. Those experiencing chronic homelessness are the most vulnerable subpopulation of the homeless community here and their long-term stability demands permanent housing with the addition of compassionate wrap-around, supportive, services delivered from a Housing First approach. Investing in tiny houses for those experiencing chronic homelessness would be doing a huge disservice to this population.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.

  • idahomay

    More on the case for support and management: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/02/13/million-dollar-murray

  • SumWonn

    “At the core of the Housing First approach is the belief that every individual has the right to feel safe, secure and have a home.”

    This is just silly. One can’t have a right to feeling a certain way or a relatively advanced standard of living. Not only does this confuse an aspirational goal with a right, but the condition of the majority of the world’s population shows it to be false. This article pretends a right to housing, though it would be much more honest and productive to recognize this as the indulgent charity it is, whether provided by private or government funds.

    Fortunately, Housing First requires no such silliness. Rather than some mystical, revelatory understanding of kumbaya, Housing First is the recognition that the homeless population is by definition transient, and that many challenges experienced by homeless people are easier to address if they aren’t. The walk-up model provides spotty and inconsistent services to a population that sorely lacks continuity.

    As Lisa Veaudry at Corpus Christie House says, being homeless is a full time job. The expensive government and charitable services require a lot of getting around, interacting with lots of people, and always keeping an eye to when the shelter line forms. A quick stop at a government office on the way home from work for me can be an all day odyssey for a homeless person. The commonality of most homeless people is that at some point, they weren’t able to manage these things even with housing. The idea that they will be able to without housing is often a waste of services.

    In my experience providing services to the homeless, the greatest challenge in helping them improve their situation is getting them to show up. You have to invest a lot of time and energy establishing trust and habits and sometimes people disappear for weeks or longer. I’ve seen housing work for people firsthand when the other pieces were in place.

    I’m disappointed in this article’s narrow, emotional appeal that has very limited reach outside the audience that already agrees. Picking nits about the inadequacy of tiny houses in some marginal cases is counterproductive. If you spend any time with the homeless you realize that mental illness is the norm rather than the exception and many will never achieve self-sufficiency. There will not be a one size fits all. This article was strange in that it criticized tiny houses but didn’t say what was wrong with them or how they are incompatible with the single point or scattered models for Housing First. I’m not a tiny house fan, being generally distrustful of all things hipster, but I am a fan of not getting in the way of people helping.

    Housing First is a successful model and should be sold as such. The sappiness and sententialism of this article’s assumptions aside, Housing First is recognition both of the tautology that homes end homelessness and that people who’ve already become homeless are unlikely to make the difficult transition out of homelessness with the handicap of being homeless.

    • Jane5

      Perhaps go live in Saudi Arabia where they don’t believe in the “sappy emotional” universal values of human rights that first world civilizations value. Your philosophy of “no one has a right to sh** ” will fit right in with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s style of government. Being super tough on the vulnerable is so super cool. All the dictators love it. Human rights & civilization, what a laugh amirite!!??

      • SumWonn

        What a weird and unproductive ramble.

      • 09 18 70

        JoJo Valdez
        As a former cooper court resident I would like to say if you think anyone chooses to be out in the cold of December then you are highly mistaken.
        I understand what she was saying about tiny housing it is a great thing to have but it is only a short term solution for people. I would also like you who thinks housing isn’t a right my husband and I have both been to college we are harder workers who fell on hard times. And most of the cooper court resident’s each had their own way of making money to get things on occasion and no they weren’t all doing it illegally. Many do mental illness or addiction issues that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t feel safe and as someone who respects and looks up to Lisa Veaudry I can tell you she is always willing to help people and she has stood by the homeless people of Boise even when know one knew she was doing it. So maybe before you go quoting someone or thinking you know anything about those who are shelter resistant maybe you should spend a few days in a tent on November or December with n no heat and everything being damp and top it off we all got scattered around and away from the people who would look out for each other.

  • Erik Kingston

    It’s great to read the diverse perspectives in this series. A growing body of evidence shows Housing First as a sound, if not 100% effective, investment. The chief argument is that doing nothing results in greater societal costs than investing in housing for those consuming the most in terms of health care, law enforcement and other public resources.

    More and more policymakers and advocates are seeing the Housing First/PSH investment through this ‘harm-reduction’ lens, or as a means of limiting social liability and cost wihle providing an essential human need for shelter as described by Maslow.

    But this is tough sometimes because we are used to viewing this through a moralistic, ‘merit-based’ lens, which is uncomfortable for many Americans. Why pay to house someone we perceive as having failed through poor choices and bad behavior? Is housing a right? I don’t know, but it was defined as such in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as follows:

    “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

    A good friend of mine became homeless after her vehicle was hit by another car running a stop light. She wound up with a undetected traumatic brain injury that resulted in rapid deterioration of cognitive function, relinquishing custody of her daughter and nearly a decade of homelessness before she finally received proper diagnosis and treatment. Was this a moral failing on her part?

    With respect to tiny houses, they are fine for some people under certain circumstances. It matters whether they are built on a fixed foudation to local codes (much more expensive) or are ‘Tiny Houses on Wheels’ (THOWs, which trade security for affordability).

    I’ve served as both a panelist and subsequent moderator of discussions on tiny houses in the context of planning and building codes at conferences. There are very few communities that currently offer clarity on how to approach this housing form, but that’s what is needed if tiny houses are to become stable housing choices.

    For more detail on the challenge for local government, see Don Elliott’s insightful piece: http://tinyurl.com/jkft8tb

    I met a tiny houser on the first APA panel who is kind of a big deal in the TH community. She is very up front about the fact that her home is only stable as long as no neighbors complain. It is in her interest to maintain good relationships with folks in her neighborhood, and she has the skills and temperament needed to negotiate any issues.

    For someone living with chronic mental illness or substance misuse, neighbor complaints might present a bigger challenge.

    Tiny houses, or any housing, in isolation isn’t for everyone. Neither is living in a community. And not everyone needs or wants supportive services. That’s why we need different options.

    And living wages for those who can and do work full time.