Albuquerque Heading Home, an initiative to end chronic homelessness in New Mexico’s largest city, has garnered attention from other cities trying to solve an enduring urban problem.
Heading Home provides affordable housing — as well as critical medical and mental health services — to homeless individuals with behavioral health problems.
Since the initiative began in 2011, it has housed 324 homeless individuals and 48 homeless families, said Jodie Jepson, deputy director of theHeading Home.
“We are continuing to house five to 10 people per month,” she said.
The Heading Home initiative provides free housing for individuals with no income; those who earn income through employment or disability benefits pay 30 percent of it toward rent.
Between 2011 and 2013, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque fell 28 percent, according to estimates, indicating the success of Heading Home’s “Housing First” approach, Jepson said.
Funded through municipal tax revenue, private donations and community partnerships, the program saves the city millions of dollars each year. A cost study conducted by the University of New Mexico determined that the housing initiative helped save the city about $12,800 per program participant by reducing their need for emergency room visits, shelter and social services.
“It’s a smart way to do the right thing, and we haven proven we can do it for less cost to the taxpayers,” Albuquerque Major Richard Berry said.
Two years ago, Phoenix counted 222 chronically homeless veterans at the 2012 Arizona StandDown. Today, through a program called Project H3 Vets, Phoenix is at “functional zero” with that population — which isn’t to say the city doesn’t have homeless vets.
What that means is that “We have all known (chronically homeless) veterans in housing and have resources available to house newly discovered CH vets,” Shane Groen, special initiatives director at the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, said by email. “Unfortunately, we still have a number of homeless veterans on our streets, many of whom have additional barriers that make it difficult to assist them and get them into housing.”
Project H3 Vets was established on Veterans Day 2011 with the idea of targeting people with the highest need and getting them into housing as quickly as possible, regardless of mental stability or drug addiction. Groen said 245 chronically homeless people have been housed through the program to date.
“It’s part of the national 100,000 Homes movement and means home, health and hope,” said Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness. “Housing comes first, instead of having to prove you’re ‘ready’ for housing. Once they’re safe and they feel supported, they become much more engaged. It’s a harm-reduction model, and it’s proven to be really effective.”
The Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness also links a “navigator” to each newly housed person. Navigators help out with day-to-day activities that many homeless people may not have much experience with, such as filling out applications, prioritizing resources and connecting with other support.
“The navigators are a great support,” Serviss said. “They’re a friend, case manager and a form of social support to help them gain independence and assist in relearning many independent living skills often lost after years on the streets.”
Even though Phoenix still has an overall homeless population of about 5,900, it’s down from nearly 8,500 in 2007.
SALT LAKE CITY
Chronic homelessness in Utah has dropped by 72 percent since 2005, according to the 2014 Utah Homeless Point in Time survey — a decrease that is credited to a statewide Housing First program.
Utah’s State Homeless Coordinating Committee has made the chronic homeless a priority because they are the most vulnerable population. Each person costs the state money in emergency hospital services and jail stays, say those who work with that segment of the homeless.
Officials say that providing for the chronically homeless not only saves money and helps people in need, but also improves planning for housing and services for all other homeless populations.
Under the state program, chronic homeless individuals are given provided housing and a social worker. Services are based on a vulnerability index that determines who needs help the most, not who is first in line.
In 2013, 77 percent of the 779 permanent housing units given provided to chronically homeless people were in Salt Lake City.
Utah’s total homelessness numbers have fluctuated in recent years. In 2005, 0.6 percent of Utah’s population was homeless, compared with 0.47 noted in the 2014 Point in Time survey.