Four years ago, Frank Waddell faced homelessness.
Waddell, 37, had just completed substance abuse treatment, but he didn’t have a home or support network until he found Earl’s Place, a transitional housing project of CHHSM ministry United Ministries in Baltimore, Maryland.
“I needed the structure and support,” says Waddell, who moved into permanent housing in 2012 and earned a degree in computer science from Baltimore City Community College earlier this year. “My life started to change because of the support that Earl’s Place provided.”
And when United Ministries opens its new permanent housing program called Prospect Place next spring, more men like Waddell will have another option for finding a home.
Unlike Earl’s Place, which provides homeless men with transitional housing and supportive services for up to two years, Prospect Place will provide 12 men with 350-square-foot permanent apartments.
The community is part of a nationwide program called Housing First, which gives the chronically homeless homes before providing them with treatment or other services. This approach contrasts with the traditional transitional housing model, where residents demonstrate “housing readiness” by completing rehabilitation programs before they are placed in permanent housing.
“The goal for this community is to take people at whatever stage they are in and give them a foundation,” says Sheila Helgerson, United Ministries’ executive director. “They have to meet with a case manager, but while we’ll encourage people to seek treatment and other services, they won’t have to.”
Across the country, other CHHSM ministries are also questioning how to eradicate poverty and homelessness amid new government research and changing funding requirements.
Some studies show that Housing First programs are more effective and save money. In Utah, for example, the chronically homeless population has fallen by 74 percent since the state built its first permanent housing community in 2005, according to the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development. In response, the federal Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act began shifting federal policy and funding away from emergency shelters toward permanent housing in 2009.
But Kimron Reising, executive director of CHHSM ministry United Caring Services of Evansville, Indiana, isn’t convinced of the initiative’s long-term benefits. “I have asked to see more research, but they don’t have it yet,” says Reising, whose organization offers a day shelter, night shelter, emergency women’s shelter and a 21-apartment transitional housing community for men.
The funding and policy changes mean that organizations like United Caring Services will have to adapt their missions and services to meet the new funding requirements, or look for donations and grants elsewhere.
“Our Department of Housing and Urban Development grant for transitional housing is significant and it would be tough to lose,” Reising says. “On the other hand, we believe strongly in our mission and our transitional housing model.”
Biloxi, Mississippi-based CHHSM ministry Back Bay Mission also serves the homeless with a variety of day shelters and a mix of transitional and permanent housing programs for families, veterans and people with disabilities.
“People need to understand that homelessness is not a choice for many,” says Kenney Washington, interim executive director. “There are different circumstances leading to homelessness. Permanent housing is great for some people, but others need a transition to help them get back on their feet.”
Regardless of the changes, Washington and others agree that it’s important to provide support and case management services, and Waddell is grateful for CHHSM organizations like United Ministries, that provide structure and support for “people who have had enough of the torture they put themselves through.”
“I needed a second chance to rebuild,” Waddell says. “Your whole life will change for the better when you get help from programs like this.”