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Providence Journal Op-Ed: Move R.I. Homeless into Housing

Is it possible to provide every individual and family experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island the opportunity to be housed within 30 days of losing housing? The short answer is yes, when systems and programs are designed to effectively end homelessness rather than manage homelessness.

Written by Karen A. Santilli, President & CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island

Published online on August 25, 2015 at providencejournal.com.

Is it possible to provide every individual and family experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island the opportunity to be housed within 30 days of losing housing? The short answer is yes, when systems and programs are designed to effectively end homelessness rather than manage homelessness.

Rhode Islanders, like residents of other states, have challenges. Wages have stagnated. Housing is not as affordable as it once was. Finding affordable accommodations is difficult. Unemployment is high. And yet homelessness remains solvable. And we know how to solve it -- with a singular focus on housing.

Homelessness is not the character flaw of an individual or head of household in a family. While the stereotypical image is of a person with mental illness struggling with addiction, the truth is that most Rhode Islanders who live with a mental illness and/or addiction will never be homeless. Most people living below the poverty line will never be homeless. Homelessness is a remarkably rare event informed more by unique circumstances and interruption of natural supports than anything else. The solution, therefore, should be so focused.

Ending homelessness is more cost-effective than managing homelessness. It is cheaper -- about threefold less. People who are homeless consume significant taxpayer-funded services, from emergency health care to frequent interactions with police; court costs dealing with petty offenses and misdemeanors to sheltering services.

Over the past two years, Crossroads Rhode Island has revamped its programs top to bottom to focus on housing. The result? Overwhelming increases in people exiting Crossroads programs into housing: 1,238 were moved into housing in 2014 -- a 26 percent increase over 2013. Crossroads’ solution-focused thinking is pervasive in shelters and employment programs, to get people connected to housing as quickly as possible. Lengths of stay in shelters for families and single adults operated by Crossroads are down: 2014 shelter stays decreased 20 percent from the previous year.

How did we get there? Making the tough choices. From top to bottom, Crossroads’ staff now performs the tasks and interventions necessary to end every person’s homelessness. It meant changing programs and staffing. It meant having a board that supports what is proven to work, not necessarily what felt like just a charitable action. It meant making a commitment to continuous improvement.

As a result, Crossroads has been recognized as a national leader and had the opportunity to showcase its accomplishments at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Washington, D.C. Others want to know how Crossroads Rhode Island went about decreasing the lengths of stays in shelters, and increased the number of people moving into housing and staying housed.

More can and needs to be done to move the entire state in the direction that will achieve maximum results. Ending homelessness in Rhode Island requires critical thought and action on where to place state and federal resources.

The best use of those funds is to target them to the individuals and families that need them the most, not based on first-come, first-served. The best use of those funds is to use data to drive investment. The best use of those funds is in hands-on supports that help people locate and move into housing quickly, and then supports for whatever issues triggered the episode of homelessness in the first place.

The best use of those funds is investing in organizations that have a track record of successful outcomes and are professionally trained on the interventions proven to work. The best use of those funds is investing in programs that deliver services aligned to evidence and practice.

A charitable approach of well-intentioned but misguided organizations is not going to cut it.

It is time to realize that we need a different approach than the one that got us into our current state -- of more than 4,000 people homeless in Rhode Island. Crossroads is blazing the path of what is possible in the state. As the new president of Crossroads, I am committed to making the changes necessary to get the job done. Will the state and its people step up to support this proven approach to ending homelessness? 

http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20150825/OPINION/150829630/?Start=1 



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