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Pathways to Housing PA Challenges Assumptions about Homelessness

Posted Friday, November 3rd, 2017

Member Submitted

Pathways to Housing PA Challenges Assumptions about Homelessness

Submitted by: Pathways to Housing PA

Sometimes the hardest part of solving a problem is identifying false assumptions. Until Netflix, Blockbuster seemed convenient. Until Warby Parker, frame manufacturing seemed expensive. Until Facebook, online behavior didn’t seem like something you could sell.

In homeless services, the limiting assumption is that people living on the streets with untreated mental illness or addiction cannot live independently. That was the assumption until organizations like Pathways to Housing PA, located in Philadelphia, started putting it to the test.

The model Pathways uses is simple. Termed Housing First, the belief is that human beings are better able to address complex trauma, severe mental illness, and long-term addiction from the safety and stability of their own homes.

The Housing First model works. Pathways boasts an 85% housing retention rate after five years, much higher than traditional services, which average only 60% after three years. These numbers are particularly surprising considering that Pathways houses some of the most chronically homeless individuals in the city, often considered “not housing ready” by other programs.

Understanding the program’s success requires examining more assumptions. While sleeping indoors may seem always preferable to being on the streets, many mentally ill people struggle with severe paranoia and traumatic histories. If the only indoor option for these individuals is a chaotic shelter or overcrowded group home, many feel safer staying on the streets. By offering individual apartments, Pathways removes this barrier to housing.

A second prominent assumption is that positive changes are easy. Anyone who has ever planned a wedding or parented a newborn knows that is patently false. Pathways work with individuals who have spent anywhere from 10 to 20 or more years on the streets. When they move inside, it is a major transition. In traditional services, that transition is coupled with giving up the substances they’ve used to cope. Many people can’t handle it and simply leave their housing. At Pathways, they take one transition at a time, greatly increasing their chances of success.

A third and crucial false assumption is that housing people in their own apartments are expensive. In fact, it is cheaper than leaving them on the streets or housing them in congregate living. The Pathways model costs $28,500 to house a participant for one year. Traditional services cost $56,600 for one year; nearly twice as much for a lower average retention rate.

Housing someone at Pathways is also cheaper than leaving them on the streets, where expensive emergency services become a bi-product of untreated mental and physical health issues. Even in the absence of an emergency, homeless individuals sometimes seek out emergency services when biting cold and loneliness becomes too much to bear. Through offering consistent clinical, medical, and psychiatric care, Pathways reduces the need for these expensive services.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Pathways’ model also builds the community. By renting market-rate apartments throughout the city, Pathways provides consistent access to safe spaces while investing in Philadelphia’s economy. It’s a financial win for Pathway’s participants and the communities where they live.

Pathways to Housing PA has benefited from a broad network of supportive partners since its creation in 2008, and they are always looking for more. Donations of household items like new towels, soap, and toothbrushes help new participants as they move off of the streets. Financial donations allow them to develop new services like Pathways’ innovative Community Integration Department, which helps participates develop skills to live a richer, more meaningful life. Pathways signature program, the Philadelphia Furniture Bank, collects donations of used, high-quality furniture that member organizations across the city can access to help their clients who are getting back on their feet. Pathways also has opportunities for organizations and individuals looking to volunteer. To learn more and get involved, contact them at info@pathwaystohousingpa.org.

Since its creation in 2008, Pathways to Housing PA has helped more than 400 people move off of the streets. They plan to continue expanding their services and challenging assumptions about homelessness for as long as the problem persists.

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