We know what works to prevent and end homelessness. Years of
research and evaluation have shown which programs are most effective and
which approaches work. We know that a targeted, comprehensive solution
is more cost effective and will have better results than temporary
fixes. We know we must commit to a continuum of affordable housing and
homeless prevention programs. We know that we must shift fundamentally
from a focus on providing temporary shelter to a focus on providing
stable, affordable housing.
Given the limited resources of our state budget, we need to be sure to
strategically invest in the most cost-effective, efficient strategies
for dealing with our homelessness crisis.
Investing in services to keep individuals and families in their homes
is far less expensive and has better outcomes than having them enter
the homeless emergency shelter system. Four avenues of homelessness
prevention that have been proven to work are:
Discharge Planning - Providing vulnerable populations
(those exiting prison, mental health centers, and DCYF) with training,
housing options and other supportive services can give these individuals
the tools they need to live independent, stable lives and prevent them
from being discharged into homelessness.
Diversion - Assistance programs can intervene to assist
those who are at imminent risk of becoming homeless. This can include
financial literacy, connecting with available services, and rental
Emergency Assistance - An unexpected illness, the loss of a
job, domestic violence, or a temporary disability can push people into
homelessness. A one-time small loan or grant can often provide the
stability these individuals and families need to stay in their housing.
Foreclosure Prevention and Tenant Protection - Provisions
to prevent foreclosure and protect tenants have proven effective. These
laws need to be strengthened and made permanent.
Affordable housing is the primary solution to ending episodic homelessness
Providing an adequate, stable supply of affordable housing is the
primary solution to ending episodic homelessness. Affordable rentals
allow low-income families and individuals to stay in their homes and
provide an avenue for the homeless to find housing.
An adequate supply of affordable housing will allow us to transform the
homeless service system into a crisis response system that rapidly
returns people who experience homelessness to stable housing. Rental
housing subsidies and new development of affordable rental units are
Permanent supportive housing is the primary solution to ending chronic homelessness
Approximately 18% of the homeless population in Rhode Island is
considered chronically homeless - that is, they have been homeless
multiple times over a period of years or for years at a time. People
who are chronically homeless face unique barriers to finding and keeping
housing - many of them live in poverty, suffer from severe mental
illness and/or substance abuse, or have physical disabilities. The
chronic homeless are often the most visible homeless population and
often use the most resources. Nationally, over 50% of service dollars
for the homeless are used by the chronic homeless population. There is a
more cost-efficient and outcome-effective solution: supportive housing.
Supportive housing is a nationally tested approach to permanently break
the cycle of homelessness by providing the chronically homeless with
affordable housing and the wrap-around services that will allow them to
live independent, stable and productive lives.
A supportive housing pilot program called Housing First was launched in
2006 in Rhode Island. The program found a 90% success rate and a cost
savings of $7,946 per person who is no longer homeless. Supportive
housing proved to be effective in moving individuals out of chronic
homelessness and saving taxpayers’ money.
Chronic Homelessness is a solvable problem in Rhode Island.
An estimated 711 chronically homeless individuals accessed shelter in
Rhode Island in 2010. This is a solvable problem. In just one year
Portland, OR, was able to house 660 chronically homeless individuals.
In Worcester, MA, chronic homelessness has decreased by 97%. We could
be the first state to end chronic homelessness.
We know how to end homelessness.
What is missing is the political will and funding to do so.
Need for a Dedicated Funding Stream
Stable, consistent funding is the key component missing in the plan
to end homelessness in Rhode Island. Each year, affordable housing
funding is cut from the state budget, yet the need for affordable
housing continues to grow. We need a permanent funding stream to
address this growing problem.
A predictable funding source will allow more strategic and efficient
development of affordable housing. Housing development is almost always
a multi-year process, therefore developers need reliable funding to
make these projects successful. Affordable housing development is being
hindered because future funding is unpredictable.
Rhode Island is one of only nine states with no dedicated funding stream
for affordable housing. It is time Rhode Island made a commitment to
ensuring this basic need to its residents.