Housing First: Saving Lives | Carol Wick of Harbor House

Rethink Homelessness on April 17, 2015

It’s a cruel choice: Remaining with an abusive partner or living on the streets.  What would you do if faced with that choice for you and your children?

A majority of survivors entering domestic-violence shelters in Florida identify “finding housing that I can afford” as a need second only to “safety.”  That should come as no surprise: Nationally one of the leading causes of homelessness among women and children is fleeing domestic abuse.  If we don’t help the first-time survivors decide to leave, a cycle of repeat abuse or even chronic homelessness can ensue. In fact, nearly 40% of survivors find themselves homeless at some point in their lives.

Yet hope – a solution – is within Central Florida’s grasp.

There has been tremendous community conversation about the Housing First model, which identifies the most vulnerable people and gets them into permanent housing as quickly as possible. For survivors fleeing abuse, finding a safe place could mean the difference between life and death.  And we would not have to wait until someone actually leaves an abuser to intervene:  Once survivors make the decision to leave, HUD considers them to be homeless. That means we can help them relocate directly to a new apartment and survivors would not have to experience the trauma of going to a shelter, or homelessness. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just completed a five-year study on rapidly rehousing survivors, and the numbers are stunning:

•             $1,250 – Average cost to permanently house a survivor and their children

•             3 months – Average time it takes to house a family

•             96% – Five -year study success rate for Rapid Rehousing

•             100% – Harbor House permanent housing RRH success rate for Rapid Rehousing5

A successful Housing First process for survivors looks very different than you might envision. The answer is not always about paying rent and deposits to help someone find an apartment.  It’s about having flexible funding to address the unique needs – big or small – of each family.  The Gates Foundation found that some families could be permanently housed for as little as a one-time help of $40.  That’s right; $40 can change the course of an entire family’s life.

To make this strategy work, however, advocates have to get out of their offices and help break down barriers in person. By listening to survivors and learning their needs, advocates could discover that a car payment, day care or even just a new uniform can make all the difference; likewise when advocates accompany survivors to meet landlords, rather than merely refer them, the outcome can be very different. Flexible funding and advocates who are willing to get out of their offices were found to be the keys to success.

A strong investment in Housing First for survivors of domestic violence is critical to survivors, so they can leave the shelter, or avoid shelter all together, and be permanently housed as quickly as possible away from their abuser.  Bottom line is it makes our community a safer place.

Currently, Harbor House oversees the tri-county rapid rehousing program. Its emergency shelter alone helps more than 1,100 adults and their children a year. In 2014, more オンライン カジノ than 7,000 sought services in all programs – and that”s just Orange County. Over half of those helped had jobs and made perfect candidates for rapid rehousing.

In prior years, Harbor House had enough HUD funding to permanently rehouse about 27 families a year. With an estimated 60,000 people affected by abuse a year in Central Florida, getting help was akin to winning a lottery. All that is changing now. With a recent grant from the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, flexible funding is making a difference.  In just one month, for less than $3,000, Harbor House was able to permanently rehouse seven families. It’s about being able to say “Yes, we can help with that,” and know that it will make the difference to that family.

One survivor, Tess, believes that a focus on housing saved her life:

“It made a big difference for me. If I had not gone to the shelter and had not gotten into that program, I would probably still be under the control of this man, still living in an abusive situation.” Tess fled with her children to a domestic violence shelter in Osceola County. And though they stayed in the shelter for 12 weeks, Tess was able to continue working and keep her job.

Tess learned about the rapid re-housing program administered by Harbor House while she was in the shelter. She applied and was accepted. Through that grant, she was able to secure a three-bedroom apartment. The grant picked up deposits for her utilities and contributed $595 a month toward the rent for one year. During that time, Tess managed to put $4,000 in savings and is now about to close on a three-bedroom home of her own.

The success of Tess is cause for celebration as we unite in common purpose and ambition.The evidence from Housing First is compelling: We can lift more people from homelessness with less money. We must trust advocates’ promise to meet personally to break down barriers and use funding creatively for maximum impact.

Together, we can help thousands of survivors and their families find enduring safety and peace.

Carol Wick is the CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida.

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