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.