|HAC's Ann Marie Peters oversees the agency's Housing First efforts.|
When it comes to helping the homeless, providing shelter is not the only answer.
For the past decade, HAC has used the Housing First model as a way to support chronically homeless adults. Ann Marie Peters, HAC’s client services manager, oversees the program which rapidly houses those who would otherwise be on the streets.
“The whole premise of the program is to take people from the streets or shelter and get them into stable affordable housing. There are no hoops for them to jump through,” Peters said. “You’re giving them housing and then providing the supportive services they need to maintain it.”
Funding comes from two sources. The Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance funds what is known as the Home & Healthy For Good program while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds the Cape Homes program.
Combined, the two funding sources have allowed HAC to provide housing for roughly 50 chronically homeless men and women at any one time in units that are located across the Cape, extending to Wareham. Some are housed in studios, others in one-bedroom apartments and others in single-room occupancy units in shared housing.
Most people do better in their own space, Peters said, while others need the structure provided by congregate housing. “There is no one perfect fit,” she said. “We do the best we can to put people in a program that meets their individual needs.”
Tenants are required to pay a portion of their income towards their monthly rent while the remainder is paid by a state and federal subsidy through HAC. That can change if something catastrophic happens – someone loses their job, for instance – at which point the subsidy would pay their full rent until the person is able to find employment.
The success of the program is judged on several factors, but primarily on whether the individual maintains their housing. “Most of the people that are in Cape Homes, in particular, have been there for five plus years,” Peters said. “So they’ve really been stable.”
The outcomes bear that out. Less than 10% of the individuals served through Cape Homes and Home & Healthy for Good over the last nine years recidivated back to homelessness after obtaining permanent housing.
These are encouraging results, particularly because Peters is working with the chronically homeless. “You’re talking about people in camps, people who have been kicked out of NOAH and those who have been homeless multiple times,” she said. “We’re not talking about an easy population to work with so the fact they are able to maintain their housing is incredible.”
When the model came to Cape Cod in 2006, Peters was unsure whether it would be successful. After witnessing positive results in the first few years, she became a firm believer in the approach.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle she has faced is finding property owners willing to rent their homes out to those who are homeless. “The housing inventory is extremely tight right now,” she said. “Last year we had a really difficult year getting people placed.”
But once they are placed, Peters said people can start to rebuild their life in relative anonymity; that is something that can be difficult for those in the shelter system which is largely in the public’s eye. “These places have less of a footprint in the community than a big facility does,” she said.
Ultimately, Peters said, the aim with every homeless person is for them to one day live independently and become a part of the community. Her programs do that immediately, giving the homeless housing so they can begin to concentrate on their other needs with the help of supportive services.
With the positive strides that have already been made through the Cape Homes and Home & Healthy For Good programs, Peters hopes they will only expand to continue addressing the region’s homeless problems. “It is extremely difficult to address whatever issue you have, whether it is substance abuse, loss of a job or some type of trauma, it is really difficult to get back on track if you don’t have a permanent place to live,” Peters said.