The skepticism was understandable.
John (not his real name) knows far too well what it is like to be without a home. Now in his late 50s, he has experienced the frustrating cycle of homelessness.
Another government program to help the homeless was supposed to help?
The skepticism is fading away.
John, who has battled homelessness for more than a decade in Amarillo, has been off the streets since this past January – and is living in his own home and building a life.
The city of Amarillo began its “Coming Home – Housing First” program in late August. The program – the first of its kind for the city and funded by the city – focuses on those who are chronically homeless and have complex needs. The program utilizes the evidence-based practice of “Housing First,” created by Dr. Sam Tsemberis.
For the better part of a year, John, who has known little but living on the streets, has built a life thanks to “Coming Home.” He abides by his lease, and pays 30 percent of his income from a disability check for rent. He is visited by social workers twice a week – and even provides coffee for his visitors. He is making his own furniture, and does repair jobs around his apartment complex.
John meets regularly with Dr. Amy Leigh Stark of the Texas Tech Department of Psychiatry, whom he beats at chess on a regular basis. He has adopted a cat, which he has had spayed. The cat can often be found in John’s lap.
Ask city staffers who administer the “Coming Home” program - they are privileged to know this talented individual and consider the world a better place because of him.
These kinds of stories are why it is so important to end homelessness – and why our city responds to this need.
The “Coming Home” program consists of 44 people living in 33 homes, which are leased.
But providing a home with a roof over one’s head is only the first step. More must be done – and this is where “Coming Home” makes a difference.
Amarillo’s “Housing First” program provides housing and intensive case management in a person’s home instead of an office-setting. Office-based intervention is not effective for many residents.
“Coming Home” participants are visited by social workers at least once a week in their homes, and the majority of participants are visited two to three times a week. The program also helps with basics, such as obtaining personal identification, etc. Individuals are also connected to health care services, such as Dr. Stark.
“Coming Home” is not a one-size-fits-all” model, as people are in different stages of recovery or may respond better to a different program. It is vital to offer these services to residents who are chronically homeless. They are our neighbors, perhaps isolated by years of difficult life circumstances, but in need of community with other people – us.
In partnership with many other homeless advocacy groups, the city’s “Coming Home” program is one layer of solution in a tower of solutions to reach out to residents who need our help.
This program focuses on individuals who have been homeless for far too long, and may have failed in other programs for a variety of reasons. Individuals graduate from the program when they no longer need the services the program provides. Rental assistance is still provided, if necessary.
A healthy, vibrant and caring community does not accept its neighbors living on the streets. From a financial and taxpayer perspective, it saves taxpayer money to provide housing, case management and health care assistance toward long-term stability rather than having the homeless using emergency and crisis services as health care options.
For example, in 2018, the charges in Amarillo to emergency facilities related to the care of individuals identified as homeless were $8.2 million.
We can and must spend these dollars more productively.
Providing a safe and stable home with health care services is the best path for some residents who are chronically homeless.
Amarillo is working hard to provide alternatives, and meet its mission to create the best environment possible for every Amarillo resident to find and achieve their potential for greatness, including those who are chronically without a home.
Ginger Nelson was elected to a second term as mayor of Amarillo in May.