FUSE Promises to Reduce Costs of Homelessness in Lane County
Because I work as an attorney with the Lane County Office of Legal Counsel, I can attest to the high costs of homelessness borne by our local courts and other public entities. That is why I was pleased to learn that ShelterCare was recently awarded grant funds, from Lane County Health and Human Services, for a program that will help address a particularly expensive segment of our local homeless population.
Often, a small portion of people take up a disproportionately large amount of a community’s resources. This is sometimes referred to as the “5:50 rule”—5 percent of people consume 50 percent or more of the public resources.
According to Lane County Jail Captain Dan Buckwald, “One example of high-use individuals in the jail context is repeat, low-level offenders. The County pays an average of $170 per person per day to jail an arrestee. Reducing that load adds up quickly.” Captain Buckwald pointed out that there is an equivalent impact on hospital emergency departments resulting from individuals who frequent emergency rooms rather than primary care doctors. Lane County estimates that each of these “super utiilzers” absorbs $34,500 of community services per year. To address this problem, Lane County has embraced FUSE—which stands for “Frequent Users Systems Engagement”—a model of care created to provide housing and intensive support to “super utilizers.”
Lane County is now among more than 20 communities across the country (including New York City, Colorado Springs and Los Angeles) that use the FUSE model. If this program’s success is consistent with other communities’ FUSE programs, Lane County’s collective savings will exceed the per-person cost allocated to ShelterCare through this grant.
The first stage in the program is to identify qualifying individuals. Lane County Health and Human Services has partnered with ShelterCare, local law enforcement agencies, the Lane County jail, Springfield Fire and Rescue, local emergency departments, the PeaceHealth Behavioral Health Unit, Laurel Hill Center and other stakeholders to create a list of more than one hundred names of high-use homeless individuals who are not currently receiving traditional services. From this list, 10 individuals will be targeted for receiving intensive services and housing during the first year of the program.
Steve Manela, Lane County Human Services Division Manager, said, “It has been fantastic the way ShelterCare, public safety, corrections, County Mental Health and Human Services came together to launch FUSE very quickly. The data team was then able to pull together data from these organizations very quickly.”
The second step is client-specific barrier removal. Services can include behavioral health support, enrollment in community services, help getting proof of identification, rental assistance, life coaching and credit repair. Program participants likely would not have benefited from traditional outreach attempts. They are typically individuals who do not seek out programs that would make them eligible for various housing opportunities.
According to ShelterCare’s Lindsay Weiss, a housing and services navigator working on the FUSE project, “We will have eight FUSE program clients enrolled by early December. To support their housing needs, we have opened three on-site units at ShelterCare’s Highway 99 location and we will open another three units within the next two months.”
As a ShelterCare board member, I am pleased this project has been successful in making a meaningful change in 10 individuals’ lives and also for linking new community partners with ShelterCare's mission to serve Lane County’s homeless population.