Housing First is a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness. This approach is based on the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before addressing anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.
Though support services are offered, Housing First does not require people experiencing homelessness to address all of their problems including behavioral health problems or to graduate through a series of services programs before they can access housing. The Housing First approach views housing as the foundation for life improvement and enables access to permanent housing without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter.
The Housing First approach is rooted in these basic principles:
Homelessness is first and foremost a housing problem and should be treated as such ·
Housing is a right to which all are entitled
Issues that may have contributed to a household’s homelessness can best be addressed once they are housed
People who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness should be returned to or stabilized in permanent housing as quickly as possible without preconditions of treatment acceptance or compliance for issues such as mental health and substance use
The service provider working with the individual should connect the client to robust resources necessary to sustain that housing, and participation is achieved through assertive engagement, not coercion
Housing First aims to solve the biggest issue, which is not having a home, and then provide services to tackle the other issues. This new approach to homelessness became popular in the 1990s. Baltimore first tried it in 2005 believing that you don’t need to fix the problems that caused homelessness before placing someone in a home. This is contrary to the longstanding belief that a person had to prove they were sober and enter into programs before being offered housing.
Rapid re-housing helps people exit homelessness quickly
A variety of studies have shown that between 75 percent and 91 percent of households remain housed a year after being rapidly re-housed.
Clients using supportive services are more likely to participate in job training programs, attend school, discontinue substance use, have fewer instances of domestic violence, and spend fewer days hospitalized than those not participating.
Finally, permanent supportive housing has been found to be cost-efficient. Providing access to housing generally results in cost savings for communities because housed people are less likely to use emergency services, including hospitals, jails, and emergency shelter, than those who are experiencing homelessness.
Housing First is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Then, it provides supportive services and connections to the community-based support people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness.
Everyone is feeling the impact of COVID-19. For some of us, it means learning to be more patient with kids at home, managing the stress of working at home or feeling isolated. For many, the loss of income and the financial demands of day to day life has them facing a bigger crisis. In 2019 Forbes magazine reported that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
The loss of a family income by death, illness, or unemployment can easily create instability and lead to homelessness. This is exactly what happened to one of our residents.
Christine was married for 32 years and often feared what would happen if her husband were to become unable to work. When her husband passed away her worst fears became a reality. “Me, my husband, my two sons, and my grandson were all living in the same home. I knew that if something happened to my husband that we wouldn’t be able to afford rent. He was really sick, and that’s what happened.”
After 3 years of moving from motel rooms, shelters, living with relatives, and even living in her storage unit she found stability and a fresh start at the Bennett House. “Once I got that key in my hand I said ‘nothing is ever gonna be the same’ and it hasn’t. That was three years ago. I’m ready to get out there and do it on my own. With my husband, I was with him for 32 years, I never had to pay a bill. Once I got here it taught me the responsibility of, you have to pay your rent, you have to buy your own food. I’ve learned how to budget my money…”
Our staff works hard to make sure we give our residents not just a roof over their heads, but the right support to learn skills that will empower them to work and live independently of the Women’s Housing Coalition.
“To me, WHC has been the greatest experience of my life. And I’ve had some good experiences and I’ve had some bad; this is the greatest. It helped me plant my feet and it gave me stability. I’ve grown a lot and I’ve learned a lot.”
With the staggering current unemployment rate, the threat of becoming homeless seems closer than ever for many people. The US Labor Department said that the economy shed more than 20.5 million jobs in April, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent — devastation unseen since the Great Depression.
Just like Christine, many people are facing these uncertain times with the fear of becoming homeless. Addressing the problems facing our homeless population and supporting programs like the Women’s Housing Coalition is more important than ever before as we expect these rates to soar.
To combat the spread of COVID-19, physical distancing measures are being instituted around the world. For the homeless population, orders to stay home are impossible to meet. For those experiencing homelessness and insecure housing, safety measures are not only out of reach, but they’re also not an option. People experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, including individuals and families, are paying an especially high price.
With social services stretched thin and businesses shuttering, rather than keeping people away from shelters, the virus has driven many in as they search for support. Globalcitizen.org explains the problem saying, “Once there, they’re met with perfect conditions for the rapid spread of the coronavirus: overcrowded and sometimes unsanitary conditions, surrounded by others who have come in contact with hundreds of people prior to entry, with the added risk of pre-existing conditions.”
While total prevention is impossible, major cities around the world are scrambling to lower the risk of widespread outbreaks and preventable deaths. Low income and homeless people, who are already high-risk due to limited health care, are now also faced with a lack of funding, medical resources, and staff to care for those who become sick.
One of their biggest challenges is not being able to adhere to the recommended 14-day isolation period. With nowhere to isolate with mild symptoms or having a place to stay after leaving the hospital. This vulnerable population is putting themselves in danger and increasing the risk to others.
Some doctors are trying to combat this by admitting patients who have manageable symptoms they would usually send home, but they fear the impact it will have on their staff and resources. A San Francisco doctor tells STAT, “I’m not someone who says that I won’t admit people to the hospital who have nowhere to go. The issue is that we are using up things that we are going to be facing shortages of,” such as hospital beds, personal protective equipment, and health care workers.
COVID-19 is shining a light on the ongoing issues cities face with caring for their homeless and poverty-stricken citizens. It is even more important than ever to support organizations like the Women’s Housing Coalition as we continue our fight to end homelessness and provide stability for families and individuals.
Maryland lawmakers passed legislation in March that makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on how they pay their rent, including the use of government housing vouchers.
With housing vouchers, the federal government provides funds to state and local agencies to fill the gap between what families can afford to pay and local rents. The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is the nation’s largest rental housing program, serving over 2.2 million households. These programs only work if landlords are willing to accept the subsidies and rent to voucher holders.
Federal law does not prevent landlords from rejecting all housing vouchers so a growing number of states, like Maryland, have enacted laws, known as “source of income” protection laws, that can increase voucher acceptance. These laws prohibit discrimination based on income sources such as alimony, disability benefits, and housing vouchers.
This Bill will add “source of income” to a list of prohibited forms of housing discrimination that include race, religion, gender identity and disability. It will effectively ban landlords with three or more properties and management companies from having policies excluding tenants who use government assistance, such as Housing Choice vouchers, commonly known as “Section 8.”
Voucher holders are often seen as undesirable tenants by landlords and, therefore, denied the opportunity to rent homes and apartments. This is a huge win for those who use vouchers to create an affordable housing option for themselves and their families.
More available housing options can mean a greater overall satisfaction with a person’s neighborhood and quality of life. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, “While many voucher holders begin their housing searches with similar aspirations and priorities, those who locate in higher-opportunity areas are significantly more likely to realize their neighborhood preferences and goals—and they are happier with the quality of life in their communities. Families who located in higher-opportunity areas were no more likely than those who located in lower-opportunity areas to report that their children had difficulty adjusting to the neighborhood following their most recent move.”
With unemployment rates skyrocketing and many people facing financial uncertainty affordable housing is more important than ever and bills like these will help ensure stability for individuals and families.
There is a long waiting list of people who are in need of permanent housing. The Women’s Housing Coalition works with Baltimore City and local landlords to help serve as many individuals and families as possible. In addition to our Single Room Occupancy buildings, the Women’s Housing Coalition works with Baltimore City and local landlords to fill units in what we call our “scattered sites.”
Whenever we have a vacancy in our units, we contact this City who sends over the person’s name who is seeking permanent housing and at the top of their waitlist. We work with the potential resident to find everything they would need in a home. There are many factors we consider when finding a place for a new individual or family to live. This includes, whether they are able to use stairs, how many children they have, how many bedrooms they need, what school district they need to be a part of, whether they need to be close to a certain bus line, if they need to stay away from a certain area due to their past, and anything else they may need when considering where they want to live. Once we get all of this information, we look for open listings throughout the City and find 2–3 apartments or rowhomes that meet every need they have specified.
Once the resident makes a choice on which unit they like best, we begin to work with the landlord. We explain our program and how we work closely with each resident to meet certain goals. WHC then signs the master lease for the apartment and subleases it to the new resident. We do this so that the resident cannot be denied the rental based on income qualifications. The unit is then subject to an inspection by the City and once it passes, our new resident(s) can move in.
Every scattered site resident is encouraged to attend programming at our buildings and form relationships with our other clients. We are also there to help with children, creating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to hold the children accountable for their schoolwork, and attending any meetings at the school that the parent and child would like support with. Scattered site residents are also required to meet with their Case Managers twice a month in order to stay on track with meeting their goals, just like those in our buildings.
The Women’s Housing Coalition has been serving Baltimore for 40 years and will continue working closely with Baltimore City to gain more sites and help more people. We need your donations more than ever to serve our residents in this uncertain time. You can make a $50 donation and feed an individual for two weeks or a $100 donation and feed a family for two weeks.