Homeless plan ‘could solve crisis in a year’

A US expert on homelessness has urged the Government to scale up a pioneering ‘Housing First’ approach which he said could end chronic homelessness here within a year.

Homeless plan ‘could solve crisis in a year’

Dr Sam Tsemberis said there are now enough examples of how successful the approach can be following its adoption in Cork, Dublin and the midlands.

Previous approaches to tackling homelessness, which dealt with addiction and mental health issues before moving a person into supported accommodation, reported success rates of around 40% to 60%.

Dr Tsemberis’s Housing First approach has reported success rates of almost 90% since it was adopted in Cork in 2013.

“The challenge now is to take it to scale,” Dr Tsemberis said. “It will take more money and a change in mindset but if that is done, we can take people off the street within a year — if you scale it up.”

Increasing housing supply, making changes to rent supplement rates, and increasing funding for the various post-housing supports for homeless agencies will also be crucial, he added.

Dr Tsemberis, founder and executive director of Pathways to Housing National, was speaking at a seminar in Cork yesterday organised by Cork Simon.

He was central in the development of the hugely successful Housing First approach to ending homelessness in parts of the US and Canada.

“The approach is to address the homelessness or housing issue first, and then deal with the other social, clinical problems after the person is housed,” he said.

“People do better in treatment if they have the safety and security of a home around which to build that treatment regiment. A person who is homeless is somewhere between hungry, exhausted and depressed, and living in a state of constant moment-to-moment, or where do I get my next meal?

“They don’t have the energy or the capacity to think about treatment. They are thinking about survival. Housing First addresses survival. They then have a place of their own and so then they can think of what’s next for me.”

In April, the state of Utah said it has nearly eradicated chronic homelessness since adopting the Housing First approach, and the Government here supports the policy.

Cork Simon Community director, Dermot Kavanagh, said it has delivered positive results here.

“In 2013, 34 people, most with a history of long-term homelessness, rough sleeping, addiction and mental health issues were housed. A year later, 85% were still housed. That’s a very good success rate,” he said.

The charity is today supporting about 60 people in housing but Mr Kavanagh said the lack of housing supply, rent supplement issues, and cuts to support services, are the biggest barriers to supporting more people.

He called on the Government, as it prepares for October’s budget, to prioritise housing for the homeless.

“When we know the evidence and what works well, we have an ethical duty to implement it,” he said.

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