Housing first

    Pennsylvania state officials, representatives from the Nutter administration, legal experts and service providers gathered in Philadelphia December 3rd to continue a conversation about the best ways to provide housing for people with addictions and mental illness.

    The founder of the Housing First movement was in Philadelphia to talk about his belief that people with addictions and psychiatric problems should have immediate access to permanent housing.

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    Sam Tsemberis says traditional programs require people to get psychiatric help or get clean and sober first.

    Tsemberis: In fact using housing almost as a reward or an incentive to get people that are uninterested in treatment to participate in treatment first.

    Tsemberis says it works better to follow a client’s needs and priorities.

    Tsemberis: For the person who is homeless, survival is the key issue.

    In September Tsemberis’ group Pathways to Housing opened offices in Philadelphia. The city already has a myriad of housing resources, but chief of the Philadelphia site, Christine Simiriglia, says different things work for different people.

    Simiriglia We’re working with a targeted population of folks who’ve been on the streets chronically and out of treatment for a long period of time.

    So far, 14 Pathways clients have been placed in housing. Many of them have untreated medical problems and active addictions.

    Simiriglia: We’ll work with that, and the idea is that we meet folks, start a relationship, do some outreach, show them some apartments, hand them some keys, and when they get a couple of goods nights sleep and they’re comfortable, and they actually get that it’s for real that they have a place to live, then they are more apt to want to talk about other needs.

    According to Tsemberis, the Housing First approach has a good track record. He says 85 percent of clients are able to stay in their homes.

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