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One year later, Housing First reports a 97% success rate

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    Terry Yasuko Ogawa, a chaplain at the Institute for Human Services, discussed the exhibit “Lived Experiences: Out of Homelessness into Housing Featuring a Photographic Study by Housing First Participants,” at Honolulu Hale on Wednesday.


    Graduate research assistant Anna Smith, left, and Terry Yasuko Ogawa hung a photo for the exhibit, which opened Wednesday.

Housing First rental units didn’t work out for five homeless people out of 166 placed in the program on Oahu last year.

Two people who had gotten units were later incarcerated, two were “noncompliant with landlords” and the other left voluntarily.

But the overwhelming majority, or 97 percent, given Housing First units last year are still housed, according to a University of Hawaii study released Wednesday.

To Jack Barile, an assistant psychology professor at UH who led the study, the conclusion is clear about the Housing First philosophy, which maintains that it’s cheaper and more effective if eligibility for housing didn’t hinge on being clean and sober, or require treatment for mental health or similar issues.

“It works,” Barile said. “I would say confidently that it works.”

Barile and graduate student Anna Smith interviewed homeless clients to gauge the effectiveness of the city’s first-year contract with the Institute for Human Services and its effort to get homeless people off the street and into fair-market homes.

Housing First funded units for 176 people, representing 115 households, last year. Only 166 homeless people, representing 105 households, were surveyed because the other 10 were also part of the state’s Housing First program.

As reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in November, the preliminary results of the study by Barile and Smith showed that compared to when they were homeless, Housing First participants reported having more days in which they felt better, had more energy and were more active. They reported having fewer stressful days and experienced more days when they were generally satisfied with life and had hope for the future.

The study released Wednesday added one more important detail: Housing First worked for 97 percent of the people.

“These are individuals that have a lot of support around them and more or less come with guaranteed rent that will be on time, that’s essentially guaranteed by the state,” Barile said. “If I was a landlord — and this is my honest opinion — these are the people I would rent to. I would definitely rent to someone who has this support compared to those that don’t and may or may not be able to pay rent each month.”

The study was released late Wednesday afternoon at Honolulu Hale during the unveiling of an exhibit of pictures taken by 18 Housing First clients who were given the use of $10 digital cameras.

None of the clients were given instructions about what to photograph, Smith said.

But many of them chose to depict a gloomy life on the street compared to much brighter, optimistic images of life after Housing First.

“Housing First gave me my self-respect back,” said Thomas Lamberton, 55, who shot a picture of the cardboard he used to sleep on near the state Capitol. “It worked for me.”

Lamberton could not remember whether he spent six years or eight years on the street, mostly the result of alcoholism.

Now that he’s been sober for 17 months — and living in a Housing First rental unit for seven months — Lamberton said he has a different attitude about life.

“I never want to go back to the street,” he said.

Right next to the photo Lamberton shot of his old cardboard bed sits another one he shot of his new, real bed in his Housing First apartment.

For the caption that accompanies the second photo, Lamberton wrote: “It was nasty on the street. I’m safe where I live now. I don’t have to take a spit bath and stuff like that over at the Capitol.”

The exhibit features 31 photos taken by formerly homeless individuals now living in Housing First units. It will run through July 19.

Connie Mitchell, IHS’ executive director, said she hopes people who see the photos — especially landlords who are on the fence about renting to a homeless person — walk away with a better understanding of how Housing First can change lives for the better.

“You bet it works,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people have had doubts whether Housing First has an impact. Clearly people are transformed. People will realize how far a journey these people have been on.”

For the second year of his study, Barile hopes to get access to hospital records to compare the emergency response costs associated with homelessness compared to when those same people get permanent housing.

But Barile expects that the data will underscore the cost savings experienced by other communities on the mainland that have already implemented Housing First programs, he said.

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  • Glad to see a program that works. I’m sure many of the nay-sayers are going to criticize the program just because it sounds “soft” and “easy”, but if this is actually effective at addressing both the numbers of homeless on the streets and the lives of those individuals, I say give this program more support!

    • Not so fast. While a 97% success rate for the first year sounds good, these people will not be considered a real success until they get their life back together, a good paying job, move out of this subsidized housing and live in one they completely pay for.

      And just like happened to Dwayne Johnson “The Rock” their future may lie on the mainland in a much lower cost of living state than Hawaii.

      Lets ensure the long term goal of this program is to get people in and off the public dole as fast as possible. Taxpayers are not going to subsidize their rent for the rest of their lives.

  • “If I was a landlord — and this is my honest opinion — these are the people I would rent to” — so, landlords would rather rent to people who don’t work and who get their rent paid by freeloading off of taxpayers, than to people who actually work and try to support themselves (so that they can pay taxes to support the freeloaders)? And people wonder why there is so much resentment against the homeless? Hawaii is circling the drain.

    • Exactly. The 97% “success rate” only shows the high percentage of people who are willing to accept help and not get tossed in the process. Now, how many have been able to obtain employment? Savings? What has been done to show that they’re getting ready to stand on their OWN feet and not be dependent ….forever.

    • Landlords participate in programs like this and Section 8 because it makes economic sense to them. What they know is that a nonprofit agency or the federal government in the case of Section 8 will guarantee that a large portion of the rent will be paid regardless of the tenant. You see the issue that landlords worry about the most are the tenants who run out on you without paying the rent for a couple of months and leave the place in such poor condition that the security deposit does not cover the cost of cleaning and repairs.
      These are the real freeloaders that I hate the most.

      • Section 8 does NOT cover cleaning and repairs. And because the true freeloaders do not work, you cannot even garnish their wages, even if you do get a judgment against them. No landlord in their right mind would rent to someone who doesn’t work. But, I suppose the slum lords will take the government’s money because they don’t really care about the condition of the units.

        • Yes Section does not cover repairs. At the landlord summit I attended the housing first providers aid that they do cover some repairs. BTW I have a rental in Mililani, just appraised att $349k renting out at $1700 a month. There is a Section 8 client in there. Great tenant, keeps the place neat and clean and I hope he stays on. I assure you people who take gov’t money are not all slum lords and we do care very much about our units because they are assets of my business. Its obvious you don’t understand that.

        • Cheeseball your stretching it a bit. Only the hard to rent properties end up with section 8 tenants, mainly. Lots of these Section 8 folks dont want to go live in those areas so they complain they cannot find anybody to rent to them.

        • I don’t know – Section 8 has been good to me. The payment standards keep going up, even when the market goes flat. Had the same tenant for 9 years already. No vacancies. My unit is in Mililani. There are many other Mililani rental with section 8

      • hawaiicheeseball, NO! not a good start! you are looking at the wrong numbers! over 5,000 homeless and only 161 housed, what a insult to the readers. what is the price tag? who is really paying? seem to indirectly blame the landlords that are not participating in this sham. in one year housed 161 homeless, only 4800 homeless to go—in how many years? a majority, yes! I would say try harder but you first have too try.

        • Did you read the new point in time count report yet? Dude one of the problems cited were the “returners” who keep cycling back to into homelessness. Yes the numbers are daunting, but understand that the Housing First is targetted at the chronically homeless which comprise a very small subset of the homeless population. You also need to read the homeless services utilization report – there you can learn that our community’s response to homelessness served over 13,000 people, most of which were successfully rehoused. Housing First is an expensive proposition because of the population it serves, this outcome is remarkable because before housing first there was no other intervention that actually kept the chronically homeless housed, and all national studies have shown that it is far more cost effective to keep the chronically homeless housed that on the streets,.

      • What do you mean “worked for 97% of people”? Did they complete rehab or get jobs? From what I am reading, that’s 160+ units taken out of the rental pool for the working poor. Housing First should utilize vacant commercial or industrial buildings instead. Otherwise, one could argue that Housing First CONTRIBUTES to homelessness by reallocating units to substance-abusing unemployed.

    • Depends on how you define success. If success is having homeless individuals and families off the street and in permanent housing, I’m betting Housing First will have a high success rate. (I’m pretty sure if the government paid for anyones rent or mortgage, we’d be happier) If success is defined as having formerly homeless individuals self-sufficient without permanent government financial support, I’m not so sure. So how many people can the government afford to pay housing for and for how long?

      • The State seems to think taxpayers can pay for an infinite number of freeloaders, for generation after generation to come. That’s why my first post recognizes that Hawaii is circling the drain, and is on its way to becoming a third world toilet. At least I got to see Hawaii when it was a wonderful place for the middle class. I feel sorry for future generations.

  • I think we have to accept that for whatever reason there will always be people who cannot house themselves without assistance. Perhaps with the relief from homelessness they can find sobriety or motivation or energy to be more self sufficient and contribute to society. This project has a great success rate, and even if only a few people are helped out of the masses of homeless, we should applaud Housing First. It would be even better if projects like this could be funded by the mega rich through foundations rather than the hard working taxpayer who is stretched enough.

    • Yes, every society has people who cannot care for themselves, due to mental illness, or other disability, or even laziness. HOWEVER, Hawaii is being disproportionately burdened by the influx of homeless moving here from the Mainland or Micronesia. This is NOT a normal portion of society who cannot care for themselves — this is an unsupportable wave of intentionally homeless moving from other areas to congregate in Hawaii. That disproportionate number is what Hawaii taxpayers, already struggling to survive, cannot support in the long run. Housing First does nothing to address the disproportionate number of homeless that overburdens Hawaii’s taxpayers.

    • In what way? The number of homeless in Hawaii keeps increasing very year, even with this program. The program has shown no long-term success. The program has not shown any effect on discouraging people from moving to Paradise to freeload. The program hasn’t shown that it reduced drug use or increased self-sufficiency. By what standard is it a “success”? Because the people getting free housing are happier that they now have free housing in Hawaii? Is that the goal, to make people want free housing in Hawaii? I suppose by that standard, then yes, it is a “success.” Sheesh.

      • It’s success is self-evident from the pictures but the effort continues to show that real change has happened. People in this program are fragile and could die in the streets. Read it again…

        “You bet it works,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people have had doubts whether Housing First has an impact. Clearly people are transformed. People will realize how far a journey these people have been on.”

        For the second year of his study, Barile hopes to get access to hospital records to compare the emergency response costs associated with homelessness compared to when those same people get permanent housing.

        But Barile expects that the data will underscore the cost savings experienced by other communities on the mainland that have already implemented Housing First programs, he said.

  • It’s been changeling, my family member was among the homeless. I turn to City and County own buildings. The Mayor and Director of Housing Jung Yang, was not help; we applied at Hawaiian Properties LTD who manage the City Properties; after being accepted residents were put on hold/while the Mayor, Governor ordered by President to honor our Veterans allowing them to have first choice/to All city own building, Shame on them for pushing our locals people with disability to the side! Do not reach out to Helping Hands Hawaii their offer no assistance/and yet there receiving monies from OHA, to help out local family, again Shame on them for misspending/and misleading our local residents, who reaching out for help.

    • I feel sorry for all the families in Hawaii who need help, yet are pushed aside in favor of recent transplants from the mainland or Micronesia. That includes local families and the elderly. There are only so many tax dollars to go around, and the State has made its priorities known – recent transplants come first, and no waiting period for benefits when you step off the plane. Even though those transplants never paid taxes in Hawaii, or even had families paying taxes here and trying to support when they could. It’s a shame, but that’s the decision of our politicians.

      • You got that right, leave it to our politicians; just when I was about give up on, god answered my pray, I found my family member an apartment “we are forever grateful” I give up on our politicians.

        Sadly, Micronesian have not contributed, and yet the politicians keep wasting our taxpayers hard earn money, send them back then the Federal can Western Union them in Micronesia.

  • We have multiple rentals in west Oahu and all have long waiting lists should our current tenants move out. Each has a long employment history and quality references. Why would any landlord willingly choose to rent to a drug addict in this market is beyond me. I attended the landlord summit and I am still waiting on the answer from the County about a waiver/guarantee that the Feds won’t take possession of your property for violations to the federal controlled substance act. Yes, if you knowingly allow your tenant to perform illegal activities (i.e., use and distribute drugs on premises) the feds can take your property WITHOUT COMPENSATION. After multiple calls and inquires, the best answer I got from the County was “I don’t think that will happen.” I would want a written guarantee that participation in the Housing First program exempts the landlord from certain federal laws.

      • IIRC this law mainly applies to drug dealers.

        System is a little flakey today. Program clients may be users who can’t take care of themselves anymore. Housing First would give them a chance to get into a drug treatment program if they need one,

        Ask the police if you have enforcement questions. Program First can’t give you a “written” guaranttee.

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