An army of volunteers surveying over 500 homeless people found—alarmingly—that almost half wrestle with a triple threat: a chronic health condition, mental health trouble, and substance abuse.
That statistic emerged at this week at status update meeting on the city’s “100-day challenge” to tackle chronic homelessness in New Haven.
Area social-services agencies have teamed up on an ambitious effort to house about 107 homeless people, those who are most at risk because of their lack of housing.
The effort has three parts: Assessing who is most in danger, assisting those people to gather the documents needed to find housing, and assigning them to new homes.
Homelessness service providers last week tackled the first step: a region-wide assessment of homeless people and families. Volunteers searched out homeless people and administered a detailed survey, gathering information about age, time spent homeless, medical and mental health challenges, and problems with drugs and alcohol.
Wednesday morning’s “brief back” presented the data gleaned from that exercise.
Leigh Shields-Church, team leader for the 100-day challenge, presented some stats:
• 182 volunteers administered the survey in 17 towns and at six shelters.
• 556 surveys were completed, comprising 50 families and 506 individuals.
The survey tracked a number of mortality risks—factors that increase vulnerability. Of the people assessed:
• 55 were over 60 years old
• 53 had liver disease
• 31 had kidney disease
• 29 had HIV/AIDs
• 39 had some type of injury related to cold or wet weather
•181 had been to the emergency room in the last six months
• 246 had tri-morbidity indicators: a chronic health problem, mental health condiion, substance abuse.
Shields-Church highlighted the final statistic as particularly alarming, indicating that a large percentage of the area’s homeless face significant and persistent personal challenges.
The average length of time homeless was three to six years.
Finally, the assessment revealed that of the 556 individuals and families surveyed,
• 25 percent need permanent supportive housing—a home with supportive care.
• 56 percent need rapid rehousing—they’re ready to move into a regular apartment.
• 19 percent need support services but not housing resources.
The next step in the 100-day challenge will be to work with the most vulnerable homeless people. Each will be assigned a “liaison,” someone who will work with them to get ready for housing by pulling together their personal documents: IDs, social security cards, income verification, disability papers.
Then, where will all the housing come from?
Shields-Church said people are already working on that question. The 100-day challenge has identified 45 slots of funded housing and $60,000 in funding for rapid rehousing.
Some people will be ready to move into shared apartments, Shields-Church said. Others will need more support.
The challenge operates on the “housing first” model, in which putting people in homes takes priority over most everything else, including requiring people to be sober or drug-free. People put in housing first are more likely and more able to seek help for other problems, the theory goes. And the practice saves money, since housing and supporting people is cheaper than giving them emergency care.
The housing first model has a 90 percent success rate, said Lisa Tepper Bates (pictured above), head of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
As the brief back wrapped up amid thank-yous, Columbus House head Alison Cunningham (pictured) commented on the “palpable” feelings of “hope and inspiration” in the room.
“Something different is happening,” she said. “We are going to help improve the lives of so many people.”
Previous stories about the 100-Day Challenge