Dignity Harbor in St. Louis

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There is a task force called the City of St. Louis Continuum of Care for Ending Homelessness, which looks at homeless services in St. Louis and, if needed, revamps them to better meet the needs of people who are homeless and those who are at risk of becoming homeless.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has mandated that the Continuum of Care come together and make changes to better meet the needs of people who are homeless in the city. There have been some major realignments of thinking on how to best meet those needs.

In the past, the practice was to give a person treatment in shelters or while on the street to deal with issues such addiction and mental illness prior to placing him or her in housing. Those services did not have a very good track record, as it is difficult to provide services to people when they do not have stable housing. Because they were untreated, there was quite a bit of money spent on emergency room visits, jail visits and crisis services.

Programs that put housing first — that is, place people in housing and then look to treat the issues that may have led to homelessness — have proven to be more effective and more efficient. This can be done in the form of rapid rehousing, transitional housing or permanent supported housing.

It cost less to place a person who is homeless in some sort of housing and pay for that housing than to meet his or her needs in a shelter or on the street and have him or her use more expensive services such as emergency rooms, jails or crisis services. Treatment for mental health issues and addiction issues are more effective once a person has been placed in housing than if the services are attempted in a shelter or on the street.

These changes are going to significantly alter the services that are currently being provided. The agencies that are providing services to people who are homeless will have to adapt to meet these new expectations. Long-term shelters will be a thing of the past as people are quickly moved out of shelters into some other form of housing. Or ideally people can get preventative services which is the most effective and efficient use of funds.

Several Continuum of Care subcommittees have been formed to figure out ways to change the system and to achieve HUD mandates with the goal of meeting the needs of people who are homeless in a more humane, effective and efficient way.

Sitting in these subcommittee meetings is not my idea of fun and not exactly what I like most about my job, but I hope that by making these system changes, people will be able to have outcomes that they would choose and want.

Dave Haessig is a Transition Specialist at Paraquad. He can be reached at dhaessig@paraquad.org.

Photo credit: LaTease Rikard

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