Housing Initiatives Unique Approach to the Madison Homeless Problem
Published on December 21st, 2016
By Jennifer Oppriecht
We see homeless people in the streets of Madison, and for most it leaves us at a loss for what to do and how to help. But the organization Housing Initiatives isn’t at a loss. They’re actually winning the war against homelessness with a unique, two-pronged approach.
Before we get to Housing Initiatives and why they’re successful, you have to learn about the population they’re focused on helping – the chronically homeless with a mental illness.
15% of homeless population considered “chronically homeless”
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, (@naehomelessness) in January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night. About 15 percent of this homeless population is considered “chronically homeless.”
Chronic homelessness involves either long-term or repeated bouts of homelessness coupled with a physical or mental disability.
People with a mental disability are the population Housing Initiatives is dedicated to help. They focus on providing safe, permanent homes for people who have severe mental illness and have been homeless for many years because of it.
“Our renters live successfully in the community”
Dean Loumos is the Executive Director of Housing Initiatives, an organization that started over 20 years ago. The program’s initial funding came from the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). The goal was to provide permanent housing for the homeless people with mental illness.
“We were to be the landlords for that group,” Loumos said. With the help of HUD funded rental assistance, they were able to subsidize rents for anyone that is homeless and suffering a mental illness.
For someone who is mentally ill, it’s difficult to impossible to hold regular employment. They might receive some sort of disability payment, but it’s not enough to cover typical rents in Madison.
Through Housing Initiatives, these individuals have access to housing, which is the key to the program’s success. “With this support, our renters and manage their own lives and live successfully in a community,” Loumos said.
A unique approach that ultimately saves taxpayers money
Housing Initiatives success is based on a two-pronged approach.
1. Get people into permanent housing to help them stabilize their lives.
2. Provide supportive services once their housing situation is stabilized.
The housing situation is the critical first step, Loumos notes. It reduces the day-to-day struggles of having to find shelter, and allows people to work with supportive services to improve their mental health. Once that happens, people can re-engage with employment, school and family.
Besides a moral benefit, the strategy pays off for taxpayers as well.
According Housing Initiatives, it costs taxpayers $40,000 per year to keep a mentally ill person homeless due to emergency visits, jail visits, shelters, etc. The cost for Housing Initiatives to provide permanent housing and counseling to the same people is $10,000 per year.
More than a place to rent
At the beginning of this post, we noted that Housing Initiatives was created to provide rental housing specifically for people with mental illnesses. Today, their small housing complexes are currently spread all over the city.
These neighborhood-centered apartments have small units – duplexes, single condominiums – and are designed to assimilate to the norm of the neighborhood. They currently have 144 of these buildings, and Loumos said plans are underway to start another project with 16 units.
But Housing Initiatives does more than just provide an affordable apartment for rent. In addition to maintaining the properties and making sure the toilets flush and the roofs don’t leak, the entire organization acts as a support service for its renters.
Special needs require special training
Housing Initiatives works with over 20 organizations in Madison to help provide community-based treatment for its renters. The chronically homeless have unique needs and require extensive resources, and Housing Initiatives gets them the help they need.
For example, some residents require help maintaining their medicines and getting transportation to the store or doctor. “It’s not normal property management,” Loumos said. “We have to pay attention to our folks in those apartments.”
Maintenance teams receive special training on what to observe and watch out for, but all this extra care is a tremendous drain on resources. Housing Initiative’s buildings are scattered through Madison, which poses unique logistical and time constraints.
Many renters have tasted success in the past
When Loumos talks about the challenges his renters pose, he’s also quick to point out that many in this population have experienced personal success in the past.
“A lot of our renters remember what it was like to be successful,” he said, noting that his renters include people with college diplomas, masters degrees and extensive work history. They also house over 40 veterans.
Many have experienced the onset of mental illness as young adults, and have not been able to recover from it. “It’s the insidious part of mental illness,” Loumos said. “If we can get them back on track and have them live independently, they can find a way to manage their lives again.”
“These problems are solvable”
If you see a homeless person on the street, you wonder, “What should I do?” You want to help, but you’re not sure how to help. You may feel helpless and unsure what can be done to help Madison’s homeless.
Loumos knows there is a solution. He’s seen it.
“These problems are solvable,” Loumos said. “We need to create affordable housing programs, and we need to develop the programs to help renters. It requires supporting government funding for housing and services.”
Housing Initiatives recent push has focused on ending veterans’ homelessness, and they’ve launched a capital campaign to raise more properties. To learn more about how you can be a part of the Housing Initiatives solution, click here.
This Channel 3000, For The Record interview with Housing Initiatives also provides more details.