End to homelessness by 2016?
An initiative piloted in the US could be the key to Ireland’s goal of ending long-term homelessness by 2016, writes Brian O’Connell
In the US, Community Solutions has just passed the 50,000 mark, halfway towards its target of housing 100,000 long-term homeless people by July 2014. The plan has worked by connecting different agencies to one another so that where certain interventions work, they can then be adopted and implemented quickly in other areas.
Jake Maguire, director of campaign communications with Community Solutions, says enabling agencies to react quickly to evolving situations on the ground is one of the key aims of the project. “What we are trying to do is create a network where communities who have solved problems can share those solutions. If someone comes up with an innovative idea that is having an impact, we shouldn’t have to wait 10 years for a research paper to tell us it works.”
The system in the US also allows people to move from homelessness to stable and permanent housing in less than three months, meaning chronic homeless people are less likely to be bounced from service provider to service provider, and far more likely to have their housing needs dealt with as a priority. The experience in the US is that the programme has not needed additional financial resources to implement it – just
a better use of existing ones.
“What we advocate is permanent supportive housing, where you can stay as long as you want,” Maguire says. “Sometimes, the supports needed might be very light, such as help making a grocery list, or simply providing weekly company for someone.
Other times it may involve medical care or treatment for mental health issues. Our philosophy is to move someone into housing first. When we did that, and then offered them supports, we found 85 per cent of persons stay in housing and away from homelessness.”
The Community Solutions programme works particularly well in helping people who are homeless who don’t engage with existing services for fear of being passed from agency to agency. The key is in getting all agencies to buy into new ways of working and sharing their work.
Existing resources are streamlined, so that each homeless person receives just the specific resources their particular case needs, and, at a time when agencies are under funding pressures, the programme can actually result in cost savings for the agencies on the ground.
The hope then is that by the end of 2014, the Community Solutions model will have been a success in Dublin and then later be adapted nationally. This could go a long way towards enabling Ireland’s aim to end homelessness by the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.