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How a Juneau homeless housing program is delivering on its promises

Submitted by doug.peeples on June 28, 2018

Before Juneau's Housing First Project opened its doors in September, 2017, the city had no supportive housing options for homeless people. Fortunately, that has changed. Providing housing for the homeless presents a variety of challenges for cities, so when one appears to be succeeding in its mission we want to share the story. — Doug Peeples

 The Housing First Project, a 32-unit building in Juneau's Lemon Creek neighborhood, was built to house homeless alcoholics. When Housing First initially proposed the facility, it said the project would help the homeless and the city by reducing the number of emergency responder calls, emergency room visits and recovery center admissions.

According to an article in Juneau Empire, a report on the project's first six months in operation confirmed that is was living up to its promises. The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), as part of an agreement with Housing First, prepared the follow-up report.

UAF's investigative team compared emergency services use from the six months prior to the tenants moving into the facility with the level of use six months after. They found that emergency room visits declined from 360 to 126, and police calls fell from 604 to 168. Fire and rescue transport calls also were lower after the tenants had moved in and trips to a local recovery center dropped dramatically, from 344 visits to two.

As Housing First Program Director Dacia Davis was quoted as saying in the article, "I think it is great for the community. Housing is a human right and we are housing people while also allowing more resources to not be used the way they were previously. We are saving police officers' time, which is invaluable."

The investigators also talked with the tenants and reported that they believed they were better off than they had been. The frequency with which tenants consumed alcohol didn't change appreciably, although it wasn't expected to. Housing First, as its title implies, accepts tenants first and then provides the services and treatment they need to resolve personal issues.

It's interesting to note that, as many homeless housing programs have experienced, it was a scramble to secure adequate funding for the Housing First project. It receives financial support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, the Alaska Mental Health Treatment Authority and others. But even with that support the program still struggled to find enough money to cover program costs — until the city of Juneau provided a $1.2 million grant in April of last year.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.