April 24, 2007

Some Cities are Tackling Homelessness; Providing Services for People with Schizophrenia

Norfolk Virginia's "Housing First" initiative is a program that provides apartments, rather than just temporary beds in shelters, to homeless people with mental illnesses and then tries to address their mental health or substance abuse issues.

The goal is to place mentally ill homeless people in permanent housing first, and then to provide services to help them live on their own, rather than expecting people with mental illnesses living on the streets to go to doctors, and comply with medication and therapy in the hopes of eventually getting them off the streets.

Norfolk's program is part of a national effort to end chronic homelessness. It targets some of the hardest cases - many of whom have resisted efforts to help them for decades.

According to the Washington Post, one problem of implementing such a program across the U.S.A. stems from each individual community having to "navigate the maze of funding sources needed for such programs." But some communities that have implemented the "Housing First" initiative have seen a remarkable drop in their homeless populations.

The exact implementation varies by city, but all emphasize permanent housing rather than shelters. Many programs allow tenants to remain in them indefinitely as long as they follow a few rules, are not disruptive to their neighbors, and regularly allow counselors into their apartments.

In some programs, tenants are required to be sober or to take medications for mental illness; in others, they are merely encouraged to do so. Some tenants have counselors visit them several times a week while others go elsewhere for treatment nearly every day.

Philip Mangano, who coordinates homeless programs for the federal government and has helped over 300 cities develop 10-year plans, says,

"We had spent 20 years managing the crisis. We thought a blanket and a bowl of soup was the best we could do for people. ... Now, we intend to end this disgrace."

Read the full article: Cities Provide Apartments for Homeless (free subscription may be required)

Related Reading:

Mental Illness Advocates Speak Out in North Carolina

North Carolina Housing Mentally Ill in Nursing Homes

Some With Mental Illness May Get Homes

New Housing for people who have schizophrenia in Canada


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