January 1st, 2012

Grant focuses on housing, health needs

The Providence Center has received a $1.5 million federal grant to work with housing providers and homeless advocates to secure access to behavioral and primary health care services for chronically homeless people in three Rhode Island cities.

The three-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration allows Providence Center staff to launch Home Base, a program that offers individualized services to those with a history of homelessness over a span of several years and veterans who have a co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorder.

Working with nearly 20 partner agencies, The Providence Center is coordinating case management, employment and education services, primary health care services and recovery programs for 600 people in Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket. Those cities accounted for 47.7 percent of the state’s homeless individuals, according to 2007 Rhode Island Homeless Coalition data.

Through a partnership with Rhode Island Housing, the Ocean State Recovery Housing Coalition and Crossroads of Rhode Island, Home Base will provide permanent supportive housing to 136 individuals.

“Our approach is to serve the whole person, recognizing that the issues faced by this population can’t be solved just by providing housing or just by providing health services,” says Providence Center President/CEO Dale Klatzker in an e-mail. “Instead it can only be addressed when we provide housing coupled with access to health care and supportive services.”

Approximately eight Providence Center staff positions are being funded through the grant, including five new case managers hired since funds became available Oct. 1, 2011, says Ian Lang, the center’s chief strategy officer.

Life on the street or in shelters is destructive to physical and mental health and costly for local and state governments and taxpayers. But programs like Home Base can help the chronically homeless for significantly less than the cumulative costs of absorbing emergency room visits, mental health treatment, law enforcement encounters and stays in corrections and shelter facilities. In its 2008 study of the Housing First program, Providence College Sociology Professor Eric Hirsch, Ph.D., and Roger Williams University Anthropology Professor Irene Glasser, Ph.D., found the annual cost of providing homeless participants with supportive services and a housing subsidy actually cost $7,946 less per client than the estimated institutional costs had those same clients cycled through the system for a year.

Providing services without housing merely continues the cycle, says Michelle Brophy, director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing RI and coordinator of the state’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.

“When you don’t have an address to send information to and you don’t have a phone number you end up falling through the cracks in the system,” Brophy adds.

The coordination made possible by Home Base will ultimately change the system for the better, Brophy believes. The goal is to establish a consortium bridging different funding structures and resources to create a permanent system to support the chronically homeless.

“It’s going to have some great, positive results,” Brophy says.

By Janine Weisman

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