A sense of despair often pervades homeless communities throughout the United States. Compounding the challenge of lacking a place to call home, much of the homeless population is plagued with mental health illnesses or substance abuse issues that require substantial attention. Without proper mental health treatment, substance abuse rehabilitation, or job training, homeless individuals find it virtually impossible to establish independence and, instead, find themselves bouncing in and out of various homeless shelters and in-patient treatments. Not only ineffective in treating these individuals, this crisis-driven approach is also extremely costly and inefficient for the state.
Recognizing this failure of the current system, the representatives of five Connecticut state agencies, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and nonprofit communities came together to address the pressing concern of chronic homelessness, resulting in the establishment of the Supportive Housing Pilots Initiative. Rather than simply providing affordable housing units, the Pilots Initiative combines affordable housing with a network of support services for families and individuals facing homelessness, especially those suffering from addiction or mental illness. Through these collaborative efforts, the Pilots Initiative has created a cost-effective model that has demonstrably cut clients' dependence on medical, mental health, criminal justice, and other public services.
As of 2005, the Supportive Housing Pilots Initiative had placed over 400 individuals and families in affordable housing with supportive services located in twenty-five communities across Connecticut. By providing these individuals with the appropriate assistance, the initiative has achieved impressive results. A 2004 survey indicated that 32% of the program tenants were employed, largely due to the education and employment opportunities made available through the supportive housing initiative. Furthermore, those tenants eligible for Medicaid experienced a significant decrease in the utilization of restrictive and expensive health services-an average decrease of 71% compared to the usage before entering supportive housing. Instead of using emergency services, the tenants were far more likely to seek regular and preventative health care. But perhaps most touching, many of the tenants are successfully able to reconnect with previously estranged family members now that they are in a stable living environment.
By addressing the root causes of chronic homelessness, the Supportive Housing Pilots Initiative has made significant inroads in aiding the homeless in establishing independent lives. Key to the success of the Initiative is the interagency collaboration-without this partnership, it would have been far more challenging, if not impossible, to provide the wide range of services necessary for tenants to become entirely self-sufficient. Other states looking to provide hope for their homeless populations with a cost-effective approach should find inspiration in this Connecticut model.
*This program was the winner of the special Fannie Mae Foundation Innovations Award in Affordable Housing.