Housing First Initiative presents comprehensive data for next steps

Samantha Ye

Editor’s note: In the article “Housing First Initiative presents comprehensive data for next steps” published Sept. 5, 2018, we added a clarifying change about homeless individuals on the HMI list experiencing homelessness for four years.

Three-hundred-seventy-eight people are experiencing long-term homelessness in Fort Collins and many have been homeless for as long as ten years, according to data from the Housing First Initiative’s first annual report. At least 25 are veterans and 182 of them have disabilities.

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A little over a year after their launch, the program leadership team presented data along with a panel on the state of homelessness in Fort Collins Wednesday night.

HFI is a two-year pilot project focused on making homelessness rare, short-term and nonrecurring. It is based at the Murphy Center and runs through a partnership between Homeward Alliance and Homeward 2020.

While HFI works toward getting participants into housing, a significant part of its work is collecting and reporting actionable data about those experiencing long-term homelessness in Fort Collins, according to their website.

Though the report does not encompass every person experiencing homelessness in the city, the data is more complete and detailed enough to help HFI and other organizations to see support gaps and design more targeted solutions, said Holly LeMasurier, executive director of Homeward 2020.

HFI also promotes housing first solutions through local partnerships and provides intensive case management to participants transitioning from homelessness to housing.

Given that we now very clearly know the magnitude of our chronic homelessness problem in Fort Collins..we cannot absolve ourselves from accountability or responsibility from addressing it any longer.”-Holly LeMasurier, executive director of Homeward 2020

During the panel session, members—composed of Andy Bzdok, mental health therapist from SummitStone Health Partners, Amanda Lucas, Homeward Alliance re-entry program manager, Marla Cleary, HFI director from Homeward alliance and David Rout, executive director of Homeward Alliance—spoke about HFI and its place in the larger support system.

A major focus of HFI is removing barriers to housing, by working with private landlords and nonprofit housing providers and increasing engagement and awareness.

While cost barriers are significant, things like simply having the paperwork can make the process complicated, panel members said. Not to mention the general stigma around homelessness.

“We certainly see people denied at a higher rate when they’re using the Murphy Center as their home address or when they’re going to fill out a rental application and they have a backpack and…look like they’re experiencing homelessness,” Rout said.

Most people on the HFI list have experienced homelessness for more than four years, LeMasurier said. In order to gauge the program’s effectiveness, HFI is currently tracking how long individuals remain homeless after beginning engagement with the program.”

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Cleary emphasized the need to invest in diverse and flexible paths to help each individual go from homeless to housed.

“This is not a one size fits all issue so we cannot create a one-size-fits-all resolution,” Cleary said. “If we could we wouldn’t have 378 folks still experiencing homelessness…in Fort Collins.”

The systems currently in place are not working for everybody, though they do help many, Cleary said. She pointed to the old “housing ready” model where clients must be deemed deserving of housing.

“With housing first, we flip that on its head,” Cleary said. “It says everyone deserves the right to housing, and the first step is to secure housing, and then the individual and systemic issues (contributing to homelessness)…get split wide open.”

Rout noted that from a purely functional standpoint, housing first is “a model that we know works” and a better investment for the impact.

HFI housed 64 program participants in the last year with a 95 percent retention rate. The majority of the housings were done through vouchers, according to their data snapshot.

Bzdok and Lucas echoed the sentiment that housing is the critical first step.

Bzdok said it is incredibly challenging to address a client’s mental health issues such as trauma or depression when they do not have the stability of a house.

Lucas, who helps previously incarcerated individuals transition after their release, said housing is a major piece to supporting her clients’ reintegration into the community.

“(Housing) is going to be the first step before you can expect someone to work on some of these profound issues they’re struggling with it,” Bzdok said.

Closing the forum, panelists emphasized one of HFI recommendations: providing a wider net of long-term or permanent support after someone has secured housing. 

The complete first HFI report will be released this month.

“Given that we now very clearly know the magnitude of our chronic homelessness problem in Fort Collins..we cannot absolve ourselves from accountability or responsibility from addressing it any longer,” LeMasurier said.

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.