A woman died on her cardboard pallet a few days ago in front of a New York church, which shook the neighbors who knew her only as Grace.
Hartford has Graces, too. Any town of any size has a Grace, some of whom wear a rut between prison, shelter, and emergency room. Graces often have complicated medical histories that include mental health issues, which they weather without a coordinated health care system. Meanwhile, they run up bills that can reach into the hundreds of thousands until they are found dead on their cardboard pallets.
For years, such people were considered chronic and nearly beyond hope, but recently, advocates are focusing on the hard-core homeless with surprising success. In Connecticut, Corporation for Supportive Housing helps fund the multi-layered Frequent Users Service Enhancement, a program aimed precisely at the Graces and run by local programs like Hartford's Chrysalis Center.
Using data collected by organizations such as the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and the Department of Correction, researchers target the hard-core homeless by name with programs tailored to each person. A recent New Yorker article examined something similar called "hot-spotting," which lowers medical costs by targeting the neediest patients.
So far, the approach seems to work.
Sound expensive? The Connecticut program - with 10 units in Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven - serves about 30 people, said Sarah Gallagher, director of Connecticut's Corporation for Supportive Housing. They plan to open 50 more, including homes in Waterbury and southeastern Connecticut. Never mind the cost of emergency rooms, or detox, or what it costs for a police officer to make an arrest. Speaking strictly about the cost of jail and shelter stays, those 30 out on the street have so far cost the rest of us $12.5 million during their adult lives, Gallagher said. If they weren't housed and receiving services through FUSE at a cost of roughly $20,000 a year, they'd be costing us more.
"One of the surprises we've found is that if we promise someone housing, they jump right on board," Gallagher said. "We know the impact of giving that key. This can save families and lives, but also improve the public system."
"I think it's really beneficial to folks who have been in and out of jails and shelters so much," said Alison Cunningham, executive director of Columbus House in New Haven. Though their program is not quite a year old in the state, Cunningham said early results are promising.
"I think by the fact that people have stayed housed even for six months or a year is great," she said. "That says the services that are part of this program are really doing what they're supposed to be doing, helping the people maintain their housing."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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