Encampment in the parking lot next to the building where my office was in the heart of downtown and a block away from Calvary Episcopal Church. I knew most of the ones in the encampment.

Okay. Okay. I was a skeptic. I didn’t believe that Housing First could work in Memphis, or any other city that didn’t have an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team.

Why didn’t I believe it?                       Wordle-2

  •  Because Dr. Sam Tsemberis’ Pathways in New York, the gold standard for Housing First, has had an ACT team from its beginning. That’s what made it work so well. Memphis has never had an ACT team. We still don’t have one. But we now have Housing First and it’s working for most of the chronically homeless men and women who are now living in their own housing. was wrong. 
  • Because I didn’t think that private landlords would be willing to rent apartments to people who were so addicted to alcohol or drugs or mentally unstable that even their own families couldn’t help them anymore. I was wrong.
  • Because I didn’t think for one minute that the people implementing Housing First would be able to secure the services needed to help chronically homeless people with disabilities remain housed. We still don’t have that ACT team but HUD came through with some $ for services and our top-notch providers are keeping the vast majority housed somehow. I was wrong.
  • I didn’t think that keeping the housing the chronically homeless peoples had finally secured would be a motivator for them to try to reduce—much less stop—their drinking or drugging. In fact, I’d never even considered it. Reportedly, it is a motivator (for some or many or maybe even most). I was wrong.  

So was I right about anything? Unfortunately, yes.

I was right when I felt sure that the sickest homeless people wouldn’t escape the concrete killing fields of homelessness unscathed. Five of the first forty housed in Memphis died in the first year. The deadly damage had already been done. 

I was right when I said there were some who were so psychotic that nothing less than involuntary commitment to give them a chance to stabilize on their medications would work. (Not that it counts for much that I was right. We can’t get them committed for their own health and safety anyway. 

Encampment in the parking lot next to the building where my office was in the heart of downtown and a block away from Calvary Episcopal Church. I knew most of the ones in the encampment.

And I was right when I said that Housing First isn’t for every chronically homeless person.  Others DO need to get clean and sober first. (One of Memphis’ clients, who was said to be addicted to crack cocaine, sold everything, including the appliances, in the house they’d rented for him and it made the evening news as they hauled him off to jail.)

p.s. I’d rather have been wrong on these too.

 

 

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