Supportive Housing Initiative Pushed By New Cleveland Mayor

by Brian Davis

     Creating additional supportive housing is a rallying call that is sweeping the country, and that campaign is coming to Cleveland. An initiative called "Housing First" has brought partners from government, business, social service and advocates to work on developing housing that features social workers and case workers on site to help with stability issues.

     The effort is led locally by the Enterprise Foundation, the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, and the Sisters of Charity Foundation. The Housing First collaboration held a forum in April 2002 to prove the need for permanent supportive housing in Cleveland. The forum was intended to give an overview of the project and give models that exist in other communities. Bill Flaherty, Columbus director, and Steve Thomas, the national Chief Operating Officer, both of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, spoke about the value of adding supportive housing to the menu of services available to solve homelessness for cities.

     The Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University researchers Kathy Hexter and Susan Burkholder studied the need for supportive housing, future trends, and the funding requirements. The approximately 150 people who attended the conference were charged with leaving to make supportive housing a reality in Cleveland.

     A group presented examples of supportive housing in other communities and their successes. Anthony Penn of the Community Housing Network in Columbus, Ohio described their efforts in developing over 700 apartment units as well as their rent subsidy program. Nikki Delgado of the Columbus Corporation for Supportive Housing described the Rebuilding Lives initiative in Columbus to develop 800 units of supportive housing in five years. She described the obstacles that they have come up against and their successes.

     Kitty Cole, Senior Vice President of Lakefront SRO in Chicago, talked about the supportive housing initiative in Illinois. In a strategic planning process ordered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Lakefront SRO developed a model for property management and providing on-site supportive housing. The group has developed eight buildings with many of the population serving homeless people with a long history of living in unstable housing.

     Two local examples of existing supportive housing programs include Eden’s Safe Havens and mental health housing and the AIDS Task Force’s Carey housing projects. Both Kathy Kazol of Eden and Earl Pike of the AIDS Task Force described the community opposition that often surround developing housing for people with AIDS. Pike talked about the demographic changes that have taken place within the AIDS community. In the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the housing centered on hospice care because life expectancy was short. Supportive housing has become critical to the AIDS community with the introduction of the daily prescription cocktail.

     In a Franklin County study, the Community Shelter Board found the cost of supportive housing at less than $100 for a bed per day, while jail had a similar cost. The detox beds are quoted at $200 per day and a hospital stay was well over $1,000 per day. This study showed the positive economics of constructing a supportive housing program. The Levin College identified 900 people on the streets per night in need of supportive housing.

     Funding a supportive housing program in Cuyahoga County will be difficult. The Levin College study says, "With few new sources of funding likely to be made available in Cuyahoga County, it will be necessary to redirect existing dollars. One way to do this is to move to an outcome-based system of funding in which housing stability becomes the measure of success for shelter, housing, and service providers who assist poor people."

     Linda Hudecek, Community Development Director for the City of Cleveland, spoke on behalf of Mayor Jane Campbell and announced the passage by City Council of a $1 million to jump start an affordable permanent housing program in Cleveland. The goal is to get a match from other government entities as well as private sources. The initiative will target disabled homeless people or those with a long history of housing instability. These supportive housing programs will focus on people with substance abuse problems, mental illness, chronic health conditions, and/or those with HIV/AIDS.

    It is anticipated that a request for proposals will be issued in the spring or summer to solicit projects to develop supportive housing in Cleveland.

Copyright NEOCH published in May2002 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54