A Home for Michael

Friday, February 20, 2004

As a soldier in Vietnam, Michael G was used to living outside and on-the-run, catching some sleep here and there whenever it was safe. That's pretty much the way life can be for a soldier. But many soldiers are surprised years later when back in the states they find themselves in the ranks of yet another army: the army of homeless who live on the streets.

[Photo: Michael G, with a key in hand, opens the door to his new apartment]
Michael G, as he moves into his new Philadelphia apartment, is no longer homeless

Unlike some of the nation's homeless, Michael hasn't spent all his time on Philadelphia's streets; during the last four years he spent a staggering 1100 days in homeless shelters.

But Michael's life took a decided turn for the better last week when he signed a lease on an apartment, thanks to a new and innovative program funded by HUD and the reinvigorated Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Last October, Philadelphia was one of 11 cities to receive a HUD grant to provide permanent rental housing and intensive supportive services for the chronically homeless. Philadelphia used these funds to start their "Home First" program.

Just four months later, Michael became the first participant in "Home First" to sign his lease and move into his own home. Home First staff will continue to work with Michael as he makes the transition from living in the shelter system to living on his own.

Michael is proud of his new digs and happy to be moving on. At the lease signing he thanked social workers who helped him through the process, and an hour later, he was on the road with the Home First crew, a new bed tied to the top of the Home First van and keys to his apartment in hand.

The Home First program is a partnership among several groups, including Horizon House, Inc., 1260 Housing Development Corporation/Columbus Property Management, Philadelphia Health Management Corporation, Project H.O.M.E., the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and the city of Philadelphia.

The Home First program uses a "housing first" approach, based on the principle that it costs less and is more effective to provide a person with immediate access to housing and services than to place them in a hospital, prison or detox program, none of which provides permanent housing and long-term services.

Philadelphia is among the most successful cities in the nation in treating chronic homelessness. According to police, the city has steadily reduced the population of adults living on inner city streets from more than 800 in 1997 to only about 70 last week. With homeless advocates and service providers working together, Philadelphia has implemented systems to better coordinate and strengthen their outreach efforts and raise the number of entry-level and treatment beds for individuals with addictions, mental illness and co-occurring disorders.

As a result, in February 2003, the city was selected from some 120 programs nationally to be part of HUD's research study on best practices to reduce chronic homelessness.

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