Source: The Daily Journal
by: ROBIN B. WEINSTEIN
On Tuesday, the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders will hold the final vote to establish a Homeless Trust Fund and Task Force to work towards eliminating chronic homelessness in Cumberland County. I applaud their efforts and pray for bipartisan support of this vital measure that is both fiscally and socially responsible.
Formerly homeless individuals in Cumberland County are rebuilding their lives and with an estimated $75,000 in potential annual revenue, the trust fund could help scores more. The trust fund, when used to fund the best practices of supportive housing and Housing First, can help those who have fallen into the pit of homelessness to emerge and not only survive, but thrive!
Tabatha, 36, has lived in her own supportive housing apartment in Vineland for 10 years. She attends Stockton University with the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree and beginning a career as a veterinarian assistant.
When she is not studying, she keeps busy volunteering with animals and at the New Horizons Community Wellness Center, a program of the Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey.
Prior to moving into her own apartment, Tabatha aged out of the foster care system when she was 21 and then became homeless in February 2001 for six months. She lived out of her car, cycling in and out of the hospitals. While homeless, she was able to work but found it difficult to meet her basic needs without knowing when her next meal would be, whether she would have a warm shower, or where she would park her car to sleep for the night. She found being homeless was especially difficult during the winter months.
In contrast to her life before moving into her own apartment, she has only been hospitalized one time in the last 10 years.
Says Tabatha, “Things became easier” after moving into her own apartment because “without housing, it was like hitting my head against a wall.” She adds, “Without stability, you can’t achieve anything besides trying to acquire your basic needs.”
Says Christine Olausen, manager of New Horizons Wellness Center: “Tabatha is a very inspiring person. She helps animals and people. She works very hard at everything she does and has a very positive outlook.”
Her mental health voucher and support services come to her through the Cumberland County Guidance Center with additional support services through the New Horizons Community Wellness Center.
Tabatha is thriving in her own apartment. With the potential funding from the trust fund, along with the Cumberland County Housing First Collaborative, we have the ability to replicate Tabatha’s success story over and over again.
Supportive housing permanently houses people who need housing assistance and supportive services allowing them to live with stability and independence in their communities. Many supportive housing programs use a Housing First approach, giving rapid access to housing with minimal preconditions to people experiencing homelessness.
On the night of Feb. 3, 2015, NJCounts 2015, the statewide point-in-time count of the homeless, found 201 individuals experiencing homelessness in Cumberland County. The Count identified 53 chronically homeless individuals and 32 unsheltered individuals.
Chronically homeless individuals have ongoing and complex health conditions including mental illness, substance use disorders, and physical health conditions and are homeless for long and repeated time periods. Like Tabatha, they may sleep in their cars, on the street or in shelters.
When the chronically homeless are not in their cars, the streets, or shelters, they circulate in and out of emergency departments, inpatient hospitals, psychiatric centers, detoxification programs and jails. A night in the jail can cost taxpayers an average of $100 per night, while hospital stays can run over $2,000 per visit.
A chronically homeless person costs the taxpayer any where between $35,000 to $50,000 annually. But when that individual is permanently housed, costs, on average, are reduced by almost 50 percent. Stable housing saves taxpayer dollars and prevents poor health outcomes, including premature death, for the chronically homeless.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, investments in supportive housing have decreased chronic homelessness by 30 percent since 2007. Supportive housing helps the chronically homeless achieve housing stability and improve health and well-being.
According to the National Housing Conference, in New York City, hospital care for a mentally ill homeless individual costs $17,500 annually — much more than the $12,500 annually it costs to provide supportive housing. Throughout the nation, the Housing First model saves taxpayers annually between $8,839 (Rhode Island) and $15,773 (Denver) for every chronically homeless person housed.
Permanent supportive housing and Housing First can end chronic homelessness as it did for Tabatha. Investing in supportive housing in Cumberland County can save money that can then be invested in economic opportunities for our residents while turning the tide of this growing epidemic of homelessness.