According to Housing First RI Director Don Boucher, until recently, Newport had approximately 12 to 15 chronically homeless men, women and families. That number is currently shrinking, and he said he hopes that number will soon be zero.
Thanks to an ongoing collaboration between Housing First RI, Turning Around Ministries, 50 Washington Square and several other programs and organizations, Newport may see an end to chronic homelessness. Housing First has taken seven single men and one family off the streets and into subsidized housing in Newport.
Housing First has experienced success before by taking some of a city’s homeless population off the streets and into apartments, but has never eliminated homelessness in a town or city altogether. Boucher said Newport could set a new standard in combating chronic homelessness not only in cities, but suburban and rural areas as well.
“What I’m excited about is that Newport really sets a precedent so we can do this in other parts of the state,” he said. “If you have a collaborative effort in the community, you can by and large end homelessness in a community.”
The process is fairly simple, and Boucher said the homeless individuals approached for the program were “ecstatic” to be a part of it and leave life on the streets. Riverwood Mental Health Services, the organization behind Housing First, leases the apartments and continues to sublet to the renters. If the client fails to pay it's Riverwood’s loss, not the owner.
“They were thrilled, they didn’t believe it was true,” he said.
Clients were targeted by the , which then forwarded Housing First the names of Newport’s chronically homeless. To be considered “chronically homeless,” the individual or family must have spent at least one year outside or in a shelter or at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. If the client has an income, which Boucher said mostly comes from Social Security, they are required to pay one-third for their rent and the rest is covered by a voucher system.
Of the eight people already placed in permanent housing, Boucher said there were no problems. If problems do occur, such as failure to pay rent, counselors are brought in to address to situation.
“They are held to the same standards of any other renter,” he said.
Housing First has placed over 160 homeless individuals since 2006.
The program is funded by several annual grants from the Rhode Island Housing Resource Commission, SAMHSA and United Way.
Boucher said that most people do not realize that it is more cost-effective to house a city's homeless population then to leave them on the streets. He estimated it costs $30,000 a year per homeless individual including hospital stays, criminal justice service costs on dealing with the homeless, and detox fees, among other expenses. Through the Housing First program, it costs $20,000 a year to house one formerly homeless person.
"The savings become exponential," he said.
Riverwood is holding a press conference tomorrow, Wednesday March 23, at 10 a.m. to announce the strides taken to end chronic homelessness in Newport and will feature the former homeless individuals who have been positively affected by the program.
“Wednesday is a celebration of collaboration," he said. "Everyone has been on board with making this happen."