Short-term housing, wraparound services help Bucks cut homeless rate by 20 percent

Dave Ritchie, a plumber by trade, lives in a self-made shack in the Pennsylvania woods. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Dave Ritchie, a plumber by trade, lives in a self-made shack in the Pennsylvania woods. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Efforts to reduce the number of homeless people in Bucks County appear to be paying off.

In 2017, the county’s annual point-in-time count found 511 people were living on the streets, in a shelter, or transitional housing.

A year later, the same data shows that total has dipped to 397 people, a roughly 20 percent drop.

A combination of factors explains the decline, with a shift toward rapid-rehousing programs perhaps playing the biggest role, according to experts.

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Unlike transitional housing, rapid rehousing provides short-term support for people trying to get back on their feet. That distinction means more funding is available to help more people.

“A transitional program, those dollars get tied up for a longer period of time. So if a transitional program is maybe a year or two years of support — and a rapid program is closer to half a year of support — you can see that’s going to free up dollars more quickly,” said Matthew Uhler, director of development at the United Way of Bucks County.

Participants also hold the leases in rapid-rehousing programs, not the organization that helped them secure the apartment. The hope is that sense of ownership will lead to people becoming self-sustaining more quickly.

The model has worked because wrap-around services — including health care and mental health services — are out there to keep people in their new homes, said Marlene Piasecki, chief operating officer at Family Service Association of Bucks County.

“Everyone is trying to make sure that they have supports from the various systems out there to help them be successful in that housing,” said Piasecki.

In 2017, Bucks County added 79 rapid rehousing beds by converting transitional housing slots.

The federal government considers rapid rehousing beds permanent housing, so they are not included in point-in-time counts.

Moving forward, county officials say more rapid rehousing may be on the way.

As of January, the county had 108 rapid rehousing slots and 265 transitional housing beds.

“We’re going to evaluate and see where it goes,” said Stephanie Bodman, project administrator with the department of housing services.

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