Program helps get homeless off streets, into jobs

In fighting homelessness, county starts with apartments

From homelessness to productive lives, the first step is a crucial one: Finding a place to live.

That’s the approach of a local effort that gave Brian Pierce an apartment in Kettering more than a year ago.

Pierce, 42, had been spending nights in “bandos” — slang for abandoned homes — in Dayton before he connected to a Montgomery County program fueled by federal dollars to get people off the street and into new lives.

“I was in real bad shape,” Pierce said. “I was homeless, going from bando to bando … I was bouncing around.”

Today, he has a Southdale Drive apartment while he works part-time as a roofer and celebrates what he says is a year of being clean and sober.

The effort gets its referrals for clients from county homeless shelters, said Kathy Lind, director of Hope Housing for Eastway Behavioral Healthcare, a Dayton private non-profit that offers an array of mental health services. The clients are usually people who are identified as those who have struggled to get housed and stay housed, she said.

“Most of them have a lot of barriers, like mental health or substance abuse, criminal records,” she said.

Laura Ferrell, president of Supportive Living Solutions at Eastway, said the effort — dubbed “Hope Housing” — marks the first time the county coalition of homeless services providers has partnered with a mental health agency.

“It was a big deal,” Ferrell said.

Eastway may get a name of a prospective client on Wednesday, meet that person Thursday and possibly house that person as early as that afternoon.

“The fastest place we’ve done (that) is 45 minutes, from the time we got a name until the time we get somebody in,” Lind said.

The idea is to help the homeless person make what she calls the “biggest change:” From being a possible burden to having a shot at a new life.

“You can’t find a job, you can’t become a productive member of society, you can’t make sure you get all of your medications and keep all of your doctor’s appointments if you don’t know which doorway you might be able to sleep in tonight,” she said.

Treatment doesn’t work if a client does not have a safe place to live, Lind and Ferrell agreed.

Pierce connected with Hope Housing while staying at the Gettysburg Gateway for Men on South Gettysburg Avenue.

“Hope Housing has been a support system,” he said. “I’ve never really had a support system.”

In almost three years, the program has housed 48 people, all in Montgomery County. There has been no shortage of landlords who have been willing to work with the program, Lind and Ferrell said.

Funding originates with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (also known as “HUD”), flowing to Montgomery County government.

“The cost-benefit (ratio) is pretty clear,” Lind said.

This attempt at housing is less expensive than emergency room visits, overnight hospitalizations, jail costs and more, the Eastway staffers say.

“This is more affordable than trying to do it the traditional way,” Lind said.

Jessica Jenkins, assistant director of Montgomery County’s human services planning and development department, said the Hope housing program costs $657,721, which represents the most recent award from HUD, first announced in the spring of 2016.

That amount covers rental leases, support of services staff, and Eastway also contributes to the program, Jenkins said.

With Lind and Ferrell, Jenkins feels that’s a bargain compared to the potential costs of hospitalization or shelter services for those who have no place to live. A hospital bill in a short time can easily reach “hundreds of thousands,” Jenkins said.

“That’s absolutely why these programs are so important,” she said. “That’s why this care, this approach of looking at housing and services together, really makes sense, because it’s such a cost-savings for the entire community.”

Dayton, Montgomery County and various non-profits — a cross-section of local leaders — band together to apply for the HUD funding, Jenkins said.

In September, the group made a new application to HUD for 2017 funding, seeking $643,618. The county will learn this spring how much it will receive, she said.

Through October this year, 2,813 “households” — Montgomery County’s term for families and individuals — were served by emergency homeless shelters or received services for the homeless outside of shelters, Jenkins said.

For all of 2015, 3,420 “households” in Montgomery County were served.

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