Author Archives: Howie

Better Outcomes for 1/3 the Cost?

Vox reports that keeping someone homeless in central Florida is three times as expensive as providing housing and case management:

The latest is a Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on “the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues. By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person.

This is just one more example of many from communities across the country showing that the humane and fiscally responsible responses to our neighbors with complex needs are the same; provide housing first.

Here in Kansas City, just this week we’re implementing a new way of prioritizing our veterans and chronically homeless neighbors for our available housing units and vouchers.  We’re also working with the VA Medical Center to identify first and second housing options for about fifty veterans we hope to house quickly.

Step-by-step, we’re building a robust housing system that helps us know our neighbors in housing crisis by name and offer them housing choices matched to their level of need.  It’s agonizingly slow sometimes, but it’s exciting, too.  What are you doing to help?  How can we support you in your efforts?

Do You Share Your Password?

If you do, you’re not alone.  According to Intercede, an identity security software company:

While 52% of respondents stated that security was a top priority when choosing a mobile device, 51% are putting their personal data at risk by sharing usernames and passwords with friends, family and colleagues.

Sharing usernames and passwords poses many risks: identity theft, fraud, and in the case of MAACLink, breaches of client confidentiality and our User Agreement, potentially resulting in loss of access to MAACLink.

I don’t know anyone who loves memorizing multiple passwords comprised of random letters and numbers, but the alternatives are far worse.

Most of us can benefit from some – but not all! – of the advice in this top search result for “tips for remembering passwords.”  I like the recommendations to use a short phrase (such as “MayTheForceBeWithYou67!”), connect the first letters of a sentence (“MTFBWY67!,” using the previous phrase), and combining a phrase with vowel elimination (“MThFrcBWth67!”) or randomly placed substitutions (“M4yTheForc3BeW!thYou67!”)

I’m skeptical of the article’s ideas that involve using personally identifiable information such as your name, zip code, meaningful dates, or current dates, all of which are predictable using publicly available information.

Have I convinced you to update your accounts – especially your MAACLink account! – with stronger passwords that you won’t share with anyone, ever?

Kansas Housing Cost/Benefit Analysis Released by Kim Wilson Housing

Kim Wilson Housing recently published the results of a months-long research effort into the costs of various housing and other interventions in Kansas.  Broadly, I think its results match those of similar studies done previously nationwide, and reinforce the excellent cost/benefit value of permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing.

Read the report for yourself right here: Cost Benefit Analysis for KS 2014-final

My thoughts:

  • Keeping Kansans homeless is very expensive!  A person experiencing homelessness in Kansas accesses about $153.00 of services – including ambulance and ER services, encounters with police, emergency shelter, etc. – per day.  In contrast, permanent supportive housing (which decreases uses of these other services drastically) costs about $29 per day for scattered-site projects (i.e. rent vouchers and wrap-around services).  Budget-minded taxpayers ought to favor increasing permanent supportive housing, it seems to me!
  • The cost of an ambulance ride plus an emergency room visit is roughly equal to that of providing 61 days of permanent supportive housing in a scattered site project.  ER “frequent fliers” can access the ER several times per month; identifying and housing these folks drastically improve their health, along with saving money!

The way we do things now results in huge, mostly hidden, costs to all of us for emergency health, police, and housing services.  There are better ways that, together, communities across the country are working toward.  They have to make sense locally, but they all include improved data systems, collection, and reporting, re-allocation of resources toward permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing, and housing first-style priorities (i.e. our system does not prolong someone’s homelessness due to addiction, lack of “job readiness,” criminal record, etc.).

If you had a housing crisis tonight, which system would you want to encounter?  The one we have now?  Or the one we’re building?

What’s Next For 100,000 Homes?

The national 100,000 Homes Campaign reached its goal one month ahead of schedule, housing 101,628 people as of June 30.  Locally, we housed 434 people (including 107 veterans) in under two years.  This was more the double our original goal of 200!

What’s next?  The Zero:2016 Campaign to end homelessness for veterans and chronically homeless individuals by December 31, 2016.

Communities – specifically, HUD COCs – must apply to join Zero:2016, and the KC/Jackson COC is currently considering whether and how to apply.  I’ll be speaking at the COC’s meeting tomorrow to provide background information and answer questions about the campaign.

If we apply and are accepted, in many ways we’ll continue what we’ve been doing for 100,000 Homes.  We’ll survey people experiencing homelessness with the VI-SPDAT assessment, use those assessment results to guide our use of our permanent housing and rapid re-housing resources, work together in housing and outreach teams to offer our homeless neighbors appropriate housing options, help move them into housing (the most important step!), and support them according to their assessed needs.

In another way, however, Zero:2016 would be a game-changer in Kansas City.  The local 100,000 Homes campaign has been a voluntary coalition of the enthusiastic.  Zero:2016 would bring the institutional resources of the COC, the local Veterans Affairs office, and the public housing authority into the campaign.  Decisions regarding participation in the process I described in the previous paragraph might well have higher stakes.

More and more in the social services world, funding is shifting to coordinated, data-driven methods that have been demonstrated to work.  Zero:2016 is at the leading edge of this sea change, but whether or not we join the campaign locally I expect that in a few years our work will look like what the campaign is advocating for.  I say let’s make the change now, for the sake of the people we serve.  Ending homelessness, here we come!

Does This Help?

HT to Buzzfeed; Rain City Housing in Vancouver is building park benches that fold up into semi-sheltered sleeping places.


It seems that it was more of a publicity effort than anything, aimed more at commuters than at those who might actually sleep on the benches.  (Which renders the benches more as art objects than tools.)  Rain City Housing provides a full range of housing services from emergency shelter to permanent housing, and the benches included contact information and addresses for the organization, inviting people to reach out for additional support.

Do these benches help move people into permanent housing?  My short answer is I don’t know.  I appreciate the creativity, the design, the provocation, the referral information, and to a small extent the practicality of the benches.  On the other hand, I’m aware of their shadow side that legitimizes the idea that some of our neighbors experiencing homelessness are sleeping on benches.

I suppose on balance, I support the bench project; the benefits are real and immediate, while the drawbacks are abstract.  Then again, that might just be near-far bias speaking.

What do you think?