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Budget Proposals Turn Back Clock On Supportive Housing

LUCIE MCKINNEY

May 10, 2009

As of this date, Connecticut is a leader in the creation of supportive housing affordable homes with support services tailored to each individual's needs. Our state has created nearly 4,000 units in more than 80 communities, rebuilding thousands of lives in the process. Govs. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and John G. Rowland, along with former legislative leaders including Kevin Sullivan and Moira Lyons, have been proud partners in that progress.

But this will come as a surprise to many: The state now intends to slam on the brakes. Proposals for the state budget in the fiscal year beginning July 1 would withdraw the modest funding for the support services that residents in 150 new units would need.

The irony is that Connecticut the home state of the late Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, who authored the Federal Homeless Assistance Act is making a U-turn back to its ineffective, more expensive past allowing homelessness to continue by funding only emergency shelters and a vicious cycle of prisons, nursing homes, emergency rooms and drug treatment while other states are pulling ahead.

The national model of "housing first" putting homeless people in homes where they can get the services they need is proving its worth from Boston to Seattle, places that once trailed Connecticut but are now catching up as we stand still.

Of 811 supportive housing residents at Connecticut facilities run by eight of the largest providers over the last three years:

783, or 97 percent, have been able to function in a stable, successful way.

103, or about 20 percent, have gone back to school or a training program, although that number is assuredly low because the largest provider, accounting for more than a fourth of the survey sample, doesn't collect this data.

69, or about 9 percent, moved on to more independent living situations, although this number is also likely low for the same reason.

334, or about 41 percent, have gone to work, full time or part time, or become volunteers.

These results turning lives around reflect the more effective, less expensive advantage offered by supportive housing and similar "housing first" models. Again, this shouldn't be shocking. Stewart McKinney always said that emergency shelters are temporary a person goes in one door and out another to a permanent home this has been learned and tested in Connecticut.

What should shock us is that, in the face of this success, state government has decided to return to the less effective, more expensive approach. It is foolhardy and inhumane.

Unless government simply ignores the problem choosing to step over homeless people sleeping in doorways or relegating them to the shelter of bridge abutments a government response must cost some money. The choice then is the less expensive option of supportive housing, or the costlier, less effective cycle of shelter-to-prison-to-emergency room. The answer is obvious.

When you consider the lives that could be reborn at less cost in supportive housing, it is very hard to understand why Connecticut is making the other choice. Stewart would be ashamed.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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