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VAHC TV: Pathways Vermont – Housing First Program

Posted February 4, 2016

Host Erhard Mahnke provides a brief legislative update, then speaks with Lindsay Casale, Housing First Program Manager with Pathways Vermont, on how they help Vermonters who have experienced chronic homelessness and have mental health disabilities find and maintain housing. For more information on Pathways Vermont, click here. To watch the program, view the embedded link below or click here. You can also view the program on-air tonight, Thursday, February 4th at 7:00pm or on Monday, February 8, 15, and 22 at 4:30pm on Channel 17/Town Meeting TV.


VPR Segment on Ending Homelessness

Posted April 22, 2015

Recently, VPR commentator John Vogel discussed Governor Shumlin’s plan to end homelessness and the Housing First model. For a link that includes audio, click here.

Governor Shumlin recently announced a new plan to end homelessness by 2020. Unfortunately, the plan seems to be getting little traction, perhaps because he introduced a similar, five year plan in 2013, and since then homelessness in Vermont has actually gone up.

So I’ve been wondering whether other states are doing any better. Surprisingly, the state that seems to be having the most success in reducing chronic homelessness is Utah, where they’ve come up with a program called Housing First – based on the radically simple idea that the solution to homelessness is giving people a home.

Rather than spend a lot of money helping people to get ready for permanent housing, Utah builds nice, new apartments and gives them to chronically homeless people at minimal rents. Having the stability of a home provides a strong incentive to deal with personal issues and find a job.

Utah also supplements this housing with services. As a result, Utah has reduced its chronically homeless population by 72%.

At first, most people assume it would be prohibitively expensive to simply put homeless people in nice apartments. It turns out, however, that the hidden costs incurred by our homeless neighbors like repeat visits to the emergency room are actually quite high.

Colorado did a study and found that the average homeless person costs the state forty-three thousand dollars a year whereas it only cost seventeen thousand dollars a year to provide him or her with decent housing.

Similarly, in Canada they did a controlled study of 2,000 homeless people with mental illness and found that the housing first approach saved $23,000 per person per year.

Researchers have also found that placing an emphasis on housing improved the participants’ physical and mental health.

Essentially the Housing First program focuses on prevention – which almost always proves to be cost effective. Prevention is also the most humane approach, especially considering that families with children make up about half of Vermont’s homeless population.

And it turns out that the Housing First model is currently being tried in a limited way by a group called Pathways Vermont and is having some success both in helping chronically homeless people and in saving the State money.

Ultimately the Housing First approach makes me optimistic that Vermont can, in fact, eliminate homelessness and that the critical first step is building enough houses so that every homeless person has a decent place to live.


100,000 Homes Update & Seven Days Article

Posted March 5, 2015

The organizers of the 100,000 Homes Campaign recently updated the community on some of the progress they have made since the registry event, which took place in October. Below are some of the current statistics as of February 2015. To read the entire progress report, click here.


Seven Days has also published an article on the campaign that highlights some of the recent progress being made in this week’s issue, titled “Turning the Longtime Homeless Population Into Tenants.” Below is an excerpt:

Last October, dozens of volunteers wearing bright green shirts surveyed homeless people in Burlington. They were participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign — a national effort to identify and house the most vulnerable members of the homeless population. Despite the lofty name, organizers made a point to temper expectations: Volunteers were instructed to make it clear that participation in the survey did not guarantee housing.

That left an important question unanswered: Would anything come of it?

Richard North was sleeping near Cherry Street around dawn during one October morning when a volunteer showed up with a clipboard. The 55-year-old man has lived in Burlington his whole life — the last two decades of it on the streets, panhandling outside Rite Aid and camping in out-of-the-way corners of the city.

North answered 50 questions about his mental health, medical conditions, substance abuse and relationships. Known as the Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool, the survey assesses how likely it is that people will die on the streets. Of the 205 survey participants, North rated among the top 10.

On February 1, for the first time in his life, North moved into an apartment of his own.

It’s easy to see why he scored high. Some time ago, he lost a toe to frostbite. While living in an encampment off an Interstate 89 exit, he was hit by a motorcycle. He has struggled with alcoholism for years, and he also has a heart condition. “It wasn’t easy at times,” is how North summed up 20 years on the streets. A pair of massive boots and a Carhartt jumpsuit — which helped him survive the cold — lay in a pile on his living room floor. Now, instead of worrying about how to stay warm, North has another concern: when he’ll get cable TV.

The nonprofit Community Solutions started the 100,000 Homes Campaign four and a half years ago, and it has spread to approximately 200 communities across the U.S. It embraces the Housing First approach, which promotes housing people without prerequisites such as completing substance-abuse treatment programs. It also operates on the premise that it’s ultimately cheaper to give people housing than to leave them on the streets. The logic: Doing so cuts down on trips to emergency rooms, incarceration and other costs.

The campaign provides the blueprint, but local organizations do all the work — training volunteers, administering the survey, and then figuring out how to cut through red tape and find the money to line up housing for people. A big part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign credo is encouraging local groups to improve their coordination with one another.

It also gives communities a goal: house 2.5 percent of their most vulnerable homeless residents each month. So far, organizers in Burlington are meeting that target. In all, they’ve found apartments for 23 people. According to Chris Brzovic, the local coordinator for the campaign, the person in greatest need of housing moved into an apartment on March 1.

To read the article in full, click here.


How ‘Housing First’ Reduces Homelessness And Saves Money

Posted November 26, 2014

Today Vermont Public Radio highlighted the Housing First program and Pathways VT, which provides these services in Vermont. Below is an excerpt from their coverage, which discusses how the program helps to permanently house the chronically homeless while saving a great deal of money in the end:

“We have a long history in this country of trying to support people to get better in order to get housing,” Melton explained. “It’s a kind of staircase analogy of moving from streets into shelters, from shelters into transitional housing to treatment programs and finally into permanent housing. We’ve found over the years that in fact that model does not work, and the results and the research that has followed — it’s two decades worth of research — has shown that what ends homelessness is housing.”

Housing First skips that staircase and simply moves a person into permanent housing. Once that person is housed, the Housing First model gives them services tailored to the person’s needs, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment. “That’s the most effective bang for our dollar to support people to get out of this horrible cycle of homelessness.”

“If you’re living on the street, it’s impossible to get better and do the things that people are asking that you do. And for people who are challenged by homelessness, there’s sleep deprivation, not knowing where you’re going to be, that kind of pressure that being homeless brings onto a person is enormous,” Melton explained. Once a person is housed, they’re in a better position to work on those problems, and there’s evidence that people do the best when they are in a community-based setting, especially if they’ve been able to have some input into the kind of community they want to live in.

Melton said while Housing First is more effective than the staircase approach to housing, the reason it’s been embraced nationally, internationally and by Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Veterans Administration and the Interagency Council on Homelessness is because it costs less.

Pathways Vermont started in Vermont as a five year grant program. Among the data is a cohort of 129 people. In the six months after those individuals started with Pathways Vermont, the amount of money spent on those people dropped by over $1 million from what was spent in the six months before they were housed.

“The prisons cost dropped from $700,000 to $200,000. The hotel costs went from $55,000 to $43,000, the $1 million for psychiatric hospitalization dropped to $1,500. So a million dollars on psychiatric hospitalization, versus $1,500 on people living in the community,” Melton emphasized. “How can we not look at those numbers and make decisions based on those numbers? We’re already spending an enormous amount of money on the same population, and we can do it better cheaper.”

Pathways Vermont uses a scattered site model for housing, working with landlords in communities all around Vermont. In five years, the program has housed 250 people, 160 of those were considered chronically homeless. Melton said they couldn’t do it with the hundreds of local landlords who are willing to take a chance by housing people without credit and rental history.

To read the entire article and listen to the audio from VPR click here.

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Housing First Featured in The New Yorker Magazine

Posted September 18, 2014

In the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine, the financial page highlights the Housing First program. Author James Surowiecki explains how programs like Housing First and Rapid Rehousing have significant economic benefits. At the end of the article he states “The success of Housing First points to a new way of thinking about social programs: what looks like a giveaway may actually be a really wise investment.”

An excerpt from the article is below:

Housing First isn’t just cost-effective. It’s more effective, period. The old model assumed that before you could put people into permanent homes you had to deal with their underlying issues—get them to stop drinking, take their medication, and so on. Otherwise, it was thought, they’d end up back on the streets. But it’s ridiculously hard to get people to make such changes while they’re living in a shelter or on the street. “If you move people into permanent supportive housing first, and then give them help, it seems to work better,” Nan Roman, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Homelessness, told me. “It’s intuitive, in a way. People do better when they have stability.” Utah’s first pilot program placed seventeen people in homes scattered around Salt Lake City, and after twenty-two months not one of them was back on the streets. In the years since, the number of Utah’s chronically homeless has fallen by seventy-four per cent.

Of course, the chronically homeless are only a small percentage of the total homeless population. Most homeless people are victims of economic circumstances or of a troubled family environment, and are homeless for shorter stretches of time. The challenge, particularly when it comes to families with children, is insuring that people don’t get trapped in the system. And here, too, the same principles have been used, in an approach called Rapid Rehousing: the approach is to quickly put families into homes of their own, rather than keep them in shelters or transitional housing while they get housing-ready. The economic benefits of keeping people from getting swallowed by the shelter system can be immense: a recent Georgia study found that a person who stayed in an emergency shelter or transitional housing was five times as likely as someone who received rapid rehousing to become homeless again.

To read the entire piece go here. To learn more about the Housing First program in Vermont visit Pathways Vermont here.


Pathways VT Gets Conditional Designated Agency Status

Posted May 5, 2014

On Friday Pathways Vermont was granted a conditional special services agency (SSA) Designation.  Read the press release from the Department of Mental Health below:

Department of Mental Health Commissioner Paul Dupre announced today that Pathways Vermont will be given a conditional designation as a Specialized Services Agency (SSA) for Fiscal Year 2015 that begins July 1st.  The Commissioner indicated that he has determined that Pathways “presents a housing and treatment option that is different from what the Designated Mental Health Agencies provide.”  This conditional SSA status will allow the Department of Mental Health to enter into an initial contract directly with Pathways, to ensure that they continue to provide services to eligible individuals who currently receive mental health treatment services from them, and at the same time undertake a full evaluation of the Pathway’s capacity to meet all of the designated specialized service agency requirements in the upcoming months.

Read more from


Housing First Training Events Happening on March 19 in Rutland and March 20 in Burlington

Posted February 18, 2014

Vermont Veteran Services and Pathways Vermont are hosting two Housing First training events that will take place in Rutland and Burlington.

The training, Introduction to Housing First: The Art & Science of Practice, will first take place in Rutland on Wednesday, March 19 and again in Burlington the next day on Thursday, March 20.

In this training attendees will learn about the core principles and practices of the Housing First Model from top experts in the field.  There will be detailed discussion of the five domains that consist of Housing First and how they are applied in a rural setting:

  1. Housing Choice and Structure
  2. Separation of Housing and Services
  3. Service Philosophy
  4. Service Array
  5. Program Structure

There will be ample time for group discussion and questions.  RSVP online today!



Pathways Vermont Pushes for Continued Funding, Housing First Program

Posted February 10, 2014

Pathways Vermont‘s Housing First Program provides housing and support services for individuals who are experiencing homelessness and have a history of mental health and other life challenges, many of whom do not or can not utilize more traditional services offered by the current system of care.

Pathways operates throughout most of Vermont, their Housing First program represents the first adaptation of the model to a rural state.

On Friday staff and Executive Director of Pathways Vermont, Hilary Melton, testified in front of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions for the need to replace expiring federal SAMSHA funds. MyChamplainValley has more:

They don’t refuse anyone, which means many of their clients have complicated histories and would have nowhere else to turn if Pathways closed.

That’s why staff appealed to the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions Friday. Melton says Pathways could soon lose half its funding.

“The federal government money, which is about $800,000 annualized, is running out in October of 2014,” Melton said. She hopes the state will help plug the hole.

“There is a chance we could shut down,” she said. That would be devastating to people like Ken Hadlock, and would put over 200 of Pathways’ “Housing First” clients out on the street.

“It would really tear me down if they shut down,” Hadlock said. “Because they’re really good support.”

Pathways also told the committee their organization saves the state money, because it gives beds to people who would otherwise resort to the emergency room or end up back in jail.

Watch the full report online here.