Housing First Push

Lots of folks are pushing the Housing First model as a solution to homelessness. Recently, an LA County Supervisor encouraged the business community to move all of their resources into Housing First and away from other, as one spokesman described, “archaic” models.

I fully support Housing First as a fabulous option, and indeed support the County’s Project 50 program, and even the planned Project 500 directed at placing the most chronic, physically and mentally challenged homeless people in our city into permanent supportive housing.

However, I need to share that the Housing First model is part of the solution to homelessness and that a continuum of housing is the answer to homelessness.

Let me start by explaining what we do at Union Rescue Mission. Some folks describe us as simply a shelter. We are much more than a shelter. We are the oldest rescue mission in Los Angeles—one of the largest, if not the largest rescue mission in the U.S. We are the only mission in downtown Los Angeles that houses single men, single women, women with children, two parent families with children, and single dads with children. In addition, we are one of the few in the County that accepts teenage children.

We provide meals and shelter to perhaps more people than any rescue mission in the U.S. Many days we provide nearly 3,500 meals! Many of those who eat at Union Rescue Mission live in the Housing First-permanent supportive housing that surrounds us on Skid Row. We provide emergency shelter and meals to 260 single men each night. We provide emergency shelter and meals to 200 single women each night. During the rainy winter months from December 1st to March 15th, we double our number of emergency guests through a partnership with EIMAGO, our public benefits charity, and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

We also provide emergency shelter and meals to 35 single moms with 60 children each night. During the winter months this last year we saw, through our partnership, 7 times the number of homeless families coming to our winter shelter sites compared to the year prior. These are folks that would more than likely be on the streets each night, if not for Union Rescue Mission.

I would be the first to agree that shelter and meals alone are not the solution to homelessness. Shelter alone would mean the mere warehousing of precious human beings made in the image of God. However, at their worst these shelter beds provide a roof overhead and a waiting area for entrance into permanent supportive housing opportunities. At their best they provide a staging point for an opportunity for entrance into a long term program that could change their life.

When it comes to life transforming long-term program opportunities, Union Rescue Mission again leads the way among Los Angeles providers and in rescue missions throughout the U.S. We have 170 single men in an intense 1 year training program. These men attend hundreds of programming hours in classes on relationships, overcoming addictions, anger management, Bible study; hours in our Learning Center; in physical education; in work therapy and volunteering throughout the Mission. Then they proudly graduate in a cap and gown after successfully completing their year commitment to the program. If you doubt the transforming power of this program, please attend our upcoming Men’s Graduation on Sunday, June 28th, at 3 P.M., in our URM Chapel.

After graduation, our men have the option to move into a 6-12 month transition phase for securing a job and saving money as they prepare to move out on their own. We have 60 men in this transition phase. This totals over 200 men in our programs. We have 16 single women in our 6 month, life transforming program as well. This includes many of the classes mentioned above, but focused on women’s issues.

This Fall, when the economic downturn hit hard we launched Project Restart, a mini-program of sorts, to house and assist 2 parent families and single dads with children who are new to homelessness. The goal is to launch them quickly back into employment and housing. We currently have 15 families and 34 children in this program on our 5th floor.

We also have 30 moms and 60 children at our long-term, transitional housing program at Hope Gardens Family Center. This facility provides a safe environment for single moms and their children. Moms have the opportunity to save money while they further their education and career skills in order to gain employment and provide a home for their children. Hope Gardens also provides permanent supportive housing to 22 senior ladies. These precious elderly women have finally found a permanent home, bringing their cycle of homelessness to an end.

I share all of these statistics to say, URM is much more than a shelter! URM is a continuum of housing within the much needed continuum of care.

The Housing First model—permanent supportive, forever subsidized care—is certainly the best model for people who are physically and mentally challenged; for those who will likely never recover from the devastating effects of homelessness. These precious folks make up about 10 to 20 % of people experiencing homelessness. This percentage also includes families with parents who are debilitated, or families that, for whatever reason, decide to pass up on a life-changing opportunity like Hope Gardens Family Center. They are those that choose instead to move to permanent supportive housing, or, what I would describe as, “Survival and Subsidy.”

The next 60%, the largest portion of people experiencing homelessness, are struggling with a mountain of issues. But those issues may very well be temporary, or at least not insurmountable. This is where life-transforming programs take the stage. Long-term, intensive programs at places like Union Rescue Mission, Los Angeles Mission, Weingart Center, Midnight Mission, and even our own Hope Gardens Family Center, provide folks an opportunity to work hard and a chance to turn their life around.

The final 20% are folks like our first-time homeless families in our Project Restart program. They have, through a series of misfortunes, stumbled into homelessness. They possess job skills and resources to quickly get back on their feet, get back into the job market and into the normal housing market. Housing First’s permanent supportive-permanently subsidized housing would not only be inappropriate for them, but it would in the end be debilitating to their genuine well being.

I would argue that there is a need for this entire continuum of housing as a solution to homelessness. I also recognize that we certainly need to make the shelter experience as short, as welcoming and dignity affirming as we can, given the limited resources.

Affordable housing is a part of the continuum of housing that I have not mentioned, and it is a vital part of the continuum that must be enhanced so that folks in the 80% final two categories I discussed will have a housing option after completing their life transforming program, or after completing a program similar to our Project Restart.

Thanks for listening and please weigh in with your comments!
Andy B.

16 thoughts on “Housing First Push

  1. None of this could have been better stated. I’m continually astounded at what you guys do there. Though I have a Rescue Mission to run here, I know that there is so much that I can learn from you guys. Just reading this post reinforces that.

    And though I loved reading it, one paragraph summed up the whole thing:

    “I would be the first to agree that shelter and meals alone are not the solution to homelessness. Shelter alone would mean the mere warehousing of precious human beings made in the image of God. However, at their worst these shelter beds provide a roof overhead and a waiting area for entrance into permanent supportive housing opportunities. At their best they provide a staging point for an opportunity for entrance into a long term program that could change their life.”

    Thank you for taking one of the most important points that we try to portray to the public, and making it real. You guys rock!!!

  2. Thank you, Aaron! You rock in Little Rock! Keep up the good work and those life saving water runs during these hot summer months in Arkansas!

  3. Steve Griffiths on

    As someone who has spent a large part of my career working with the homeless population in Minneapolis, I can’t agree with you more.

    While housing first is a fantastic idea and stabilizes families, there is a need for the continuum as not every wants/is ready for “their own” housing. Work such as your’s and other around the country that helps people who are homeless deal with some of the root causes of homelessness provide a firmer foundation for people to keep that housing.

    Keep up the good work. Blessing to you and your ministry!

  4. Scott Chamberlain on

    Andy,
    As the Director of the Hope Gardens Family Center, I agree completely. This is especially true with the families that come through our doors. Though they have many strengths, they are not equipped to maintain housing on their own at this time. Additional intensive support is needed. 80% of our families have cycled in/out of homelessness for years, never addressing their core barriers of homelessness. Long-term, transitional housing that is empowering, comprensive and adaptable, is the best way for each family to have long term success. This gives them the time to emotionally deal with the pain of their past, and the time to increase their wage potential through education or vocational development. These characteristics of empowering and effectiveness needs to be part of any shelter and transitional program, and move away from the old model of warehousing and undignified treatment. URM is providing a stepping stone to permenant housing with dignity and respect for each resident. 65% of our families have left Hope Gardens and have moved to Permenant Housing over the past two years; double the success of other programs according to a recent LAHSA report. We are proud to be part of the continuum bringing success to families experiencing homelessness.

    Secondly, though Housing First may be good for some, there is not sufficient housing stock in some areas (Southern California) to address the large need in those areas. Shelter and transitional housing should always be part of the continuum in order to prevent families being literally on the streets. We all need to work together for the overall good of society and the children.
    We should not place all funding in one area, just because that program works (such as Housing First). It would be like acknowledging that private education works, so lets just get rid of public education. Though my kids are in private schools, I would never advocate for that. Or seeing that one form of health care works, so lets abandon our safety net for those without health care. ABSURD! Housing First works…as well as the needed and effective transitional housing and shelter!
    Andy, thanks for your leadership in this area!

  5. Thank you, Scott! Your comments and knowing you’ve spent nearly 20 years working with folks on Skid Row means a lot!

  6. Lyn Jerde on

    Andy, if you’re ever anywhere near Wisconsin, I’d love to have you come and talk to our church. Lakeview Lutheran (ELCA) of Madison is a Spirit-filled church composed mainly of working (certainly not wealthy) people who are moved to show Christ’s love by meeting the needs of our neighbors. Any insight about how to do that in an effective way would help us do better at dignifying humanity and glorifying God. Meanwhile, I will share your blog with our pastor, who was a social worker before entering the ministry. I’m sure he’ll find them helpful.

  7. At age twenty nine, just days before Christmas, I went from being a stay at home wife of an evangelist, a mother, and a missionary myself to a homeless woman who lost everything important to me(my family and security)all in one day. My husband had decided he no longer wanted to be married, nor to be an evangelist or saved; but, he did want to remain a father. He moved me out and within a few weeks later, he moved in another woman. When he moved me out, the Union Rescue Mission became my home and I got a top of the line education in homelessness. My eyes were open wide to the truth about homelessness in the five months I had spent at Union Rescue Mission and in the community of Skid Row.

    A year or so prior to my own situation, I had seen a PBS special about the homeless across America, by the time the program was over, I had the view that homeless were scavengering opportunistic cockroaches of society. I grew up in a town of four traffic lights. When someone is laid off from work or things get tight family, friends, neighbors provide shelter or help. When I was at URM in Downtown or what is known as Skid Row, I saw this sence of community tailored to the societal ways of Skid Row.

    Homelessness is devestating and complex. Each case is multidemmenisional and unique. Whether people go into the programs available at URM or not, reflection and resource can be had because the first basics of shelter, food, clothes (sometimes transportation) and if necessary other relavant needs are met. One is even able to maintain basic health care. Yet URM is set in manner that no one is able to be complacent. Even the clients contribute to the care of the facility. And if not in a program theya re still required to do their upmost t better themselves, thier families (if they have them with them), and maintain their dignity.

    Not everything is a smooth ride at URM, there are challenges. It is not Mayberry or Disneyland, but compared to what is outside at night, URM is a gated safehaven.

    URM treats the whole person. And in doing so, URM is doing all they can to erradicate homelessness one person at a time. URM’s program is possible one that hinders homelessness from becoming a generational situation.

    During my time at URM, I did not join nor participate in any of their programs as I was already a minister at another facility and was enrolled in business classes as well as taking a course offered by Prision Fellowship Ministries, but I did volunteer in all the areas within URM’s facility that I was allowed. This hands on training if you will proved vital to my recovery and gave me a whole nother perspective of the situation of homelessness. I left URM to a position of women’s home director at another facility. I decided to use the URM model but provide a Bed and Breakfast type atmosphere for our ladies that enrolled in the programs that we offered. After my tenior there was over, I became an educator about homelessness, sharing my own personal story. I continue these efforts even now working in the South in the areas hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma to educate the religious communities the importance of the meeting the needs with in their own congregation thus establishing solid communities. The challenge is getting them to recognize their responsibility and networking together when necessary. I am currently writing a book concerning this topic as well as making the effort to obtain 501 (c)3 status for a ministry which I am founder/director and have been running out of my own pocket for the past several years.

    I am thankful for the URM. Grateful they were there when I needed them and Priveledged to lend my voice on this blod to substantiate and testify first hand all that URM has to offer and the fact that it is a model to follow. Thank You, Staff, directors, founders and donors of URM to your contribution to my life.

  8. Thank you, Michelle! Bless you!

  9. Andy, thank you. Plese feel free to use what I wrote beyond this post if it will be any help. Again blessings to you, your family, the staff, directors, board and donors to the contribution made to my life and to the ones you all have made through me along the South Coast. Blessings to you all as well.

  10. Don Nose on

    Andy sorry for weighing in on this issus so late but I had to think about this Housing First model in the context of the entire homeless problem. Here is the reality and 50, 250 or even 500 housing units will barely scratch the surface when it comes to addressing the problem:

    1) Last official census in 2007 indicates that 73,000 people are homeless every night in LA County – 83% of these where unsheltered

    2) 10,000 of the 73,000 are children and about 8,000 of these children sleep in locaton not suitable for humans

    Since 2007, the recsssion has increased the number of homeless people substantially and further exacerbates this problem.

    I can’t see how 250 or 500 housing units addresses this issue to any significant degree. We need a multi-faceted approrach and a continum of assistance options if we want to make any kind of dent in the issue. Just my 2 cents.

    Thanks Andy….we need to keep going

  11. Thank you, Don! Thanks for all you do. Blessings

  12. Added to my favourites list and added to my blogroll.

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