University review finds positive impacts two years into city’s Housing First initiative

The City and County of Honolulu’s Housing First initiative is working, according to a new evaluation prepared by the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Social Sciences.

The program, which was launched in 2015 by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, resulted in an overall housing retention rate of 89 percent, the review said. In addition, formerly homeless individuals showed increased general health and significant decreases in alcohol and drug use, arrests, and medical expenses after entering the Housing First program.

Read more from the report:

“Honolulu’s Housing First Program continues to successfully house individuals with a history of homelessness,” said Dr. Jack Barile of the University of Hawaii. “This has been achieved through a concerted effort to respectfully engage and support individuals’ transition into housing. The building of trust, support, and ties to meaningful community groups has led to the sustained success of the program.”

The Housing First model places people experiencing homelessness directly into permanent housing and provides supportive services necessary to help each individual remain housed. There are low barriers to entry and sobriety is not required in order to obtain housing, but clients must follow house rules in their apartments like any other tenant. Case managers are available 24/7 to help clients and landlords resolve any issues. Households participating in the city’s Housing First program were all experiencing chronic homelessness prior to placement, which means they were experiencing homelessness for a year or more and have a disability.

After two years, Housing First served 214 people in 135 households, including 48 children. The majority of clients were single men and the average age of a client at intake was 45. Only 18 program participants were no longer stably housed after two years, including five people who were incarcerated.

As of January 2017, there were 177 people enrolled in program.

“Chronic homelessness can be ended,” said Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services, which is contracted by the city. “The city’s Housing First program is evidence of this. It’s infused hope and transformed lives that were hanging by a thread in many cases. Also heartening is how faith partners and the hospitality industry personalized housing transitions with donated goods and furnishings.”

The University of Hawaii evaluation also found:

  • 92 percent of clients reported never or rarely using drugs after one year in Housing First
  • 80 percent of clients reported never or rarely using alcohol after one year in Housing First
  • Clients were 64 percent less likely to visit the emergency room
  • Clients were 74 percent less likely to be admitted to a hospital
  • Clients had a 21 percent improvement in general health
  • Clients were 55 percent less likely to be arrested after one year
  • Clients were 61 percent less likely to be arrested after two years
  • Clients had a 96 percent increase in connections to a community group
  • Clients reported having a 38 percent improvement in hope for the future

“Housing First is the right thing to do, as well as a smart investment that saves taxpayer funds. Following the success of our initial Housing First contract with IHS, we launched a second Housing First program with U.S. VETS last December. We requested proposals for a third program on June 5 that will supportively house an additional 100 households for a total of 315 households experiencing chronic homelessness between the three contracts,” said Caldwell.

Click here for more information on Housing First.

Click here to read the university’s one-year review published in 2016.

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