June 23, 2005

Housing Before Treatment

Baltimore is planning to start their own program to defeat homelessness by following the example of one of New York's programs. Pathways for Housing is a program that helps the mentally ill who are homeless with getting apartments. The program focuses on finding housing for the homeless before they are treated for drug addiction or mental illness. They acknowledge the fact that when they find an apartment for most people who have a mental disorder and a drug problem that the individual is probably not going to initially stop doing drugs. But getting them into housing is the first step in giving people the opportunity to "function in a rational world."

"Sam Tsemberis, a psychologist who started the program about a dozen years ago, says the concept of housing the homeless before they receive treatment for drug addiction or mental illness isn't something he thought up. "It's what people told me they wanted," he said, referring to the men and women he met as an outreach worker in New York in the 1980s.

Pathways' harm-reduction model, which stresses protection over everything else, is winning converts. As word of its success has spread - 85 percent of the program's clients remain housed -duplicates are cropping up. Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver are among a growing list of cities with "housing first" initiatives" (Anderson, 2005).

Baltimore may be the next to follow with a program in their own city. Participants are not forced to get drug treatment or psychiatric help. The hope is that they eventually will. The program is also quite cost effective in comparison to the alternatives. The Pathways for Housing program costs $22,500 per person per year. The customary program costs about $40,000 to $65,000 per person per year. In New York city a bed in the state jail costs $85,000 and a state hospital costs $175,000. Pathways serves around 400-500 people a year with a budget of about $12 million dollars. The money comes from grants, the government, and benefits that the clients already receive due to their poverty.

Check out the Pathways to Housing website at http://www.pathwaystohousing.org/

The source of this article is The Baltimore Sun.

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