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Duffy holds homelessness, hunger summit in New Richmond

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) answered questions from students during his second annual Hunger & Homelessness Summit Tuesday, Dec. 16, at the WITC New Richmond campus. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)1 / 3
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) hosted his second annual Hunger & Homelessness Summit Tuesday, Dec. 16, at the WITC New Richmond campus. (Photo by Tom Lindfors) 2 / 3
“You put people in the housing first and then wrap the services around them, help them work through their addiction issues, bring treatment to them and help them stabilize,” said keynote speaker Lloyd Pendleton, director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force. (Photo by Tom Lindfors) 3 / 3

“We have to do a better job of advocating for those who find themselves homeless and hungry in rural America. Urban parts of the country rule the conversation, the research and the funding. Our keynote speaker took urban concepts and championed them in a rural part of the country. As director of the State of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, Lloyd Pendleton was charged with implementing Utah’s 10-year plan to prevent and end chronic homelessness and reduce overall homelessness by 2015. The Housing First model that Lloyd championed is the poster child for eliminating homelessness across America.”

That was U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) introducing Lloyd Pendleton, the keynote speaker at Duffy’s second annual Hunger & Homelessness Summit held Tuesday, Dec. 16, at the WITC New Richmond campus. More than 100 professionals representing public and private social service agencies, education, churches and other concerned community organizations took advantage of opportunities to learn about everything from food education and fundraising to grant writing and substance abuse.

Defining homelessness

A federal study of more than 40,000 homeless individuals determined they could be divided into three categories: temporary homeless (80 percent), episodic homeless (10 percent) and chronic homeless (10 percent). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines someone who is chronically homeless as, “An unaccompanied adult with a disabling condition who has been homeless one year or four times in three years.” Of that 10 percent of chronically homeless individuals, 75 percent are men with mental health and addiction issues; many are war veterans.

In 2005, Utah set a goal to end chronic homelessness by 2015. In 2005, the percentage of Utah’s homeless population defined as chronic was 14.52 percent or 1,932 people. In 2014, that number is 539 or 3.96 percent. Pendleton explained his task force learned the key to effectively reducing overall homelessness depended on housing those who were chronically homeless first. Relentless outreach and perseverance have contributed to their program’s success.

“These individuals account for 50 to 60 percent of shelter system expenses,” Pendleton said. “Each chronically homeless person occupies 10.7 beds that could be used for other homeless individuals and families. They incur emergency care costs, EMT runs and jail time. These are individuals on the street costing communities that kind of money. So it is an economic issue as well.”

Of the 5.743 million people living in Wisconsin in 2014, 6,055 were homeless including 436 identified as chronically homeless. Wisconsin received $21.9 million in HUD funds in 2014 to address social issues including homelessness. Housing the chronically homeless will free up more money to devote to the other homeless populations.

“In Utah, we were not willing to go to the legislature or foundations and ask for more money until we knew the money we were getting was being used effectively to achieve the new vision of providing housing opportunities for all chronically homeless individuals. We set out to repurpose existing funds,” Pendleton said.

Part of the problem of solving homelessness in rural Utah was getting small rural communities to realize they had a homeless population. Once communities recognized the issue, they were able to organize local community resources to address solutions. Success also requires coordination and buy-in from the top down. Pendleton created a policy committee uniting representatives from the departments of health and corrections, continued care, workforce services, local governments, faith-based leaders, housing authorities and social security.

“We went to our governor and said we need the lieutenant governor to chair this and we need your cabinet-level people to sit on this committee. She made that happen,” Pendleton said. “I also made a commitment to have local engagement, so we created local homeless coordinating committees chaired by local elected officials that met monthly.”

Each local committee developed its own plan to meet the 10-year goal, which when approved at the policy level resulted in funding for their plan.

Pendleton’s task force adopted a clear vision: Everyone has access to safe, decent, affordable housing with the needed resources and supports for self-sufficiency and well-being.

Housing

First model

Ultimately it was a new philosophy developed in New York City that enabled Utah to succeed. Housing First rejects the traditional model, which requires homeless individuals to be clean, dry and sober before allowing them housing. Individuals are removed from housing and lose their case management if they fall off the wagon. Housing First operates on the premise that stability needs to be established first enabling trust, which will eventually lead to the effective management of addictions.

“So it was a pretty scary experience for Dr. Sam Tsemberis, who started this program 22 years ago. You put people in the housing first and then wrap the services around them, help them work through their addiction issues, bring treatment to them and help them stabilize,” Pendleton said.

Initially Pendleton was not convinced the New York model could work in Utah, so he created a pilot program for $150,000. They identified 17 of the most difficult chronically homeless individuals and provided housing for 22 months.

“Twenty-two months later all 17 were still housed,” Pendleton said. “The national average is 85 percent after 12 months. It was a huge paradigm shift. We had chosen the most challenging and we found they could be housed. A young case manager said they had always debated which theory of case management was best. Now their theory of case management is, anything necessary to keep them housed.”

In the Housing First model, housing providers must provide access to robust client support services; however, tenancy is not subject to participation in those services. Housing First employs a harm reduction approach versus abstinence. Addictions are tolerated.

“When I heard about the harm reduction model, give them clean needles, it was revolting to me. I didn’t understand harm reduction was a way to get them to begin to look at changing their lifestyle, change how they do things, reducing the alcohol consumption,” Pendleton said. “We call it progressive engagement, a way to eventually wean them off of supporting services.”

Housing First treats individuals as regular renters. They pay 30 percent of their income or $50 whichever is greater.

To alleviate landlord concerns, master leases guaranteeing rent and the handling of any problems are arranged through case managers. Both scattered sites and dedicated facilities generate income, which translates into accountability for legislators.

Utah currently operates a number of successful scattered site and project-based housing programs serving both individuals and families. They are currently embarking on a pilot employment program to work in conjunction with their housing efforts. Initially, employment opportunities are located within or very near the housing location to grow clients’ confidence, enabling them to eventually accept off site employment opportunities.

Utah’s also exploring an expungement program where individuals can earn expungement of their criminal records once they demonstrate a reformed lifestyle and maintain steady employment for five years.

Duffy appreciated Pendleton’s presentation and saw value in his experience.

“Taking the crisis out of their daily lives before they start to address other issues makes a lot of sense,” Duffy said. “This is a great new model that can actually help us change people’s lives. If we are successful, it will make more money available to actually eradicate chronic homelessness like they have in Utah, which is a big deal.”

Duffy chose New Richmond as the site of his second annual summit for a reason.

“Changing the way we do it to create better impacts can start with a small group of people in a community like New Richmond,” Duffy said. “What happens here can lead us to the governor’s office where we can say, ‘Listen, you know what we need is a buy-in.’ This is a human movement, not a political movement. Finding a balance is incredibly important. We need to champion the respectful use of dollars and get our churches and community leaders to buy into this movement.”

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