Housing First, New Life Second

Housing First, New Life Second

By Matt Gleason
Mental Health Association

Living under a bridge, Alicia O. met an Atlantic reporter, Ankita Rao, who chronicled her journey in this story that finds her struggling with untreated alcoholism, respiratory infections and schizophrenia to finding an apartment of her own, and people who cared about her recovery. 

The story tells Alicia’s heartbreaking story while casting a spotlight on the Housing First model, which we use to provide safe and affordable housing and a path to recovery for our tenants battling mental illnesses and overcoming homelessness. 

“Proponents of the Housing First approach, which has been replicated in 40 cities nationwide, say that investing in high risk patients like Alicia can also save taxpayers millions,” according to Atlantic. “Funded by government grants and charitable donations, the programs can curb the high health care costs that the more than 630,000 homeless people in the U.S. incur through repeat ER visits, hospital stays and preventable, recurring illnesses. 

“Without health care and shelter, a homeless person in the U.S. is twice as likely to land in the ER as someone with a stable living situation, and to stay there longer, according to a study by the Denver Health Medical Center. 

“Using the Housing First model developed by New York University psychiatrist Sam Tsemberis, which combines housing with wraparound services like health care, those numbers dropped significantly.

 “A 2009 Journal of the American Medical Association study of a Seattle-based Housing First program determined that the average monthly health and criminal justice costs of a homeless person dropped from $4,066 to $1,492 after six months of housing. Similar results were documented in San Francisco and Philadelphia. The programs also reduced ER visits by 58 percent, according to a national study by the Corporation For Supportive Housing.”

By the end of the story, the reporter notes that the Housing First model allowed Alicia to move into a safe apartment and to receive proper health care. Unfortunately, she later died of a pulmonary embolism and cardiac arrest.

Although it’s sad that Alicia died, her nurse said Pickett said Alicia died with “a level of dignity” and “with her family at her bedside, not under a bridge in Georgetown.”

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