NPR ran a much-discussed story on Morning Edition last month about recent efforts to combat homelessness in San Diego. Much of the piece focuses on Connections Housing, a residence that provides housing and support services for tenants who are formerly homeless. The piece highlights the story of a single tenant, Wanda, a chronically homeless woman who spent nearly a decade on the streets but now has a place to call her own.
The story — shared by many in the housing advocacy world — illustrates the continued effectiveness of supportive housing as the premier means to end chronic homelessness.
Though the story doesn't use the words "supportive housing," Connections Housing is a splendid example of this unique housing model. The building offers housing for some of San Diego's most vulnerable citizens: people with long histories of homelessness and multiple barriers to independent living such as chronic conditions and mental health issues. These are the folks who, without housing and help, typically cycle between the streets, emergency rooms, public shelters, and jails. They are the people immortalized by Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article "Million-Dollar Murray."
Supportive housing ends this cycle. It offers people a modest, respectful place to live and access to the services they need to live with hope and dignity. Tenants can attend job-readiness courses, seek health care treatment, or get help with recovery — all in the same building. The result? No more needless cycling out of shelters, jails and psychiatric centers. No more costly, Medicaid-funded trips to the emergency room. No more living under a tree, as Wanda did for a shocking two years.
The research has shown that supportive housing is both effective and cost-effective. Just last month, the National Alliance to End Homelessness's annual State of Homelessness in America report cited increased supportive housing production as the chief engine behind significant drops in chronic and veteran homelessness nationwide from 2011 to 2012. The report stated that "the ongoing and increased development of permanent supportive housing, a proven solution to ending homelessness for people with disabilities, is bringing down chronic and veteran homelessness numbers in communities across the country." Study after study has shown that supportive housing saves money as well. Formerly homeless individuals who move into supportive housing are far less likely to visit the ER, sleep in shelters, or use any number of other public services.
Despite such positive appraisals, funding for supportive housing remains imperiled at the federal level. These cuts stem from everyone's least favorite S-word: Sequestration. Many of the programs hit by sequestration cuts — McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, HOME — provide funding for supportive housing residences like Connections Housing. All told, sequestration cuts will result in a $150 million annual loss of funding with which to develop supportive housing.
If left unturned, sequestration could devastate the nonprofit developers and providers who keep people like Wanda healthy and off the streets. If you'd like to ensure that these programs continue to thrive nationwide, from San Diego to New York, please contact my colleague Steve Piasecki at email@example.com.