By William K. Harter
What does Newport have in common with New York City, Denver and New Orleans? It is learning to resolve the homeless problem through a non-traditional “Housing First” program.
“This has been my collaboration. It’s been one of the most exciting, spontaneous efforts I have seen in my career,” said Don Boucher, Program Director of Housing First Rhode Island.
James Winters of the Newport police made a 48-minute documentary on homelessness. As winter approached in early November, the film was shown at Channing Memorial Church’s Action Committee on Housing and Homelessness. Sally Hanchett and Betsy Dees co-chair the committee. Betsy said, “The film inspired me to pursue a solution to find a safe, warm place for some of Newport’s 12 to 16 identified homeless individuals.” Checking around, a fund was found for “helping the poor and needy in Newport.” They applied and got a $5,500 grant.
Nationally, the Housing First program has been in existence 20 years. The concept is to put responsible homeless people in a home, giving them the responsibility to manage the home first, before the program attacks the other issues involved which the person has. Workers saw the overwhelming client’s emotional response and their desire to keep the home.
The program has an 80 to 90% success rate for people living in their housing unit over a year. The organization says, “Before entering the program, clients averaged $31,617 in public services (emergency rooms, shelters, jail, detox units). For the first year, it dropped to $23,507, a saving of $8,110.”
In January, two chronically homeless single men were placed in a two-bedroom apartment in Newport. “When we helped the men move in, one of the men almost cried when he saw the lamps and towels we found,” claimed Cheryl Robinson of Turning Around Ministries. In February, an expectant mom, her young son and husband were given a voucher. Churches supplied the furnishings, linens, kitchen and bath supplies.
Officer Winters said, “It is the first time in 30 years we may have a solution to our chronically homeless in Newport.”
Efforts are continuing to help more people. Once apartments are found, there will be a need for furniture. The organization has arranged for picking up donations. The group is planning a fundraiser for late March.