A newsletter featuring thoughts, art and poetry created by ShelterCare residents. Read the latest issue: Voices, April 2017
ShelterCare addresses homelessness with a comprehensive approach
This editorial was originally published on April 2, 2017. Reprinted with the permission of The Register-Guard.
The solution to homelessness is obvious: Housing. Less obvious is the fact that housing, while necessary, is often not sufficient. Many people need various kinds of support to find housing, to keep them in housing once they find it, or to help them avoid losing their housing in the first place.
ShelterCare has been providing supported housing in Lane County since 1970, and offers a model for an approach that can get people off the streets and into housing, where with the right kinds of treatment and support they can achieve stability and independence.
The non-profit agency has a half-dozen programs tailored for specific segments of the homeless population, such as people with persistent mental illness, people with traumatic brain injuries and homeless people needing care after a period of hospitalization. It also works with homeless people who fit no specific category or who need one-time assistance to pull them back from the brink of homelessness.
These can be difficult populations to work with. Their illnesses and disabilities may be severe. Their history as tenants may be checkered or non-existent. One year on the streets takes the physical toll of two years in housing, says Don Gulbrandsen, ShelterCare’s development director. All other problems are aggravated by the mental stresses of homelessness, which include isolation, anxiety and the atrophy of social skills.
ShelterCare serves about 1,250 of these people each year, and provides supported housing for 375 — housing plus health care coordination, skills training, peer counseling, individual and group therapy, supported employment and more. The people receiving these services are taken from a waiting list maintained by Lane County that places those with the most urgent physical and mental vulnerabilities at the top.
Finding these people once they become eligible for ShelterCare’s services can be hard — they’ve often learned to make themselves invisible. They may need help obtaining some form of identification. ShelterCare works mainly with private landlords to provide housing, and persuading landlords to take a chance on tenants with sketchy backgrounds or a history of behavioral problems requires persistent effort.
In some cases ShelterCare will sign the lease, providing landlords assurance that the rent will be paid and that problems with tenants will be addressed. Executive director Susan Ban says her agency has developed good relations with many landlords and property management agencies. The continuing support provided by ShelterCare is undoubtedly a key to maintaining those relations. Some formerly homeless tenants’ needs can be unexpected: Ban and Gulbrandsen tell of tenants who had to be taught to use quiet indoor voices so as not to disturb neighbors, or who had never learned to live with hot and cold running water.
ShelterCare can also step in when a one-time financial crisis — often related to an illness — threatens to result in a loss of housing. Gulbrandsen recalls one unemployed father who had found a job that required him to report for work wearing steel-toed boots, but if he bought the $350 boots he would not be able to pay the rent. ShelterCare bought the boots. More homelessness prevention efforts will be funded by a new three-year, $325,000 grant from the Kaiser Permanente health care system for an eviction intervention program run by ShelterCare in partnership with other agencies.
All this costs quite a lot of money. ShelterCare has an annual budget of $7.3 million, with about half coming from program revenues and the rest from federal, state and local governments, donations and grants. The revenues flow partly from people in supported housing who qualify for various kinds of public assistance — Medicaid, housing subsidies, veterans’ benefits and others.
Yet ShelterCare has compiled information showing that its services actually save money. It costs nearly $20,000 a year to maintain a person in supported housing. A homeless person costs nearly $30,000 a year — housing expenses go down, but the cost of health care goes way up, as do expenses for law enforcement services and incarceration.
These are ShelterCare’s figures, but they are corroborated by studies supporting an emerging consensus that a failure to house the homeless costs more than providing supported housing. The effects of homelessness on the health care system alone are so significant that insurance companies are starting to think of housing as something for which a prescription might be written, just like medicine.
Ban and Gulbrandsen agree with others who work with homeless people that Lane County urgently needs more affordable housing. They also agree with the somewhat less widely accepted idea that a “low-barrier” homeless shelter would be helpful, one that would provide a bed to anyone who needs it. They warn that such a shelter would be expensive — robust security would be essential, and unless it had a strong social-service component the shelter would be no more than a warehouse.
Lane County also needs something like the Royal Avenue Shelter, which was a 19-bed center providing short-term treatment to people with mental health crises, Ban and Gulbrandsen say. ShelterCare was forced to close Royal Avenue in 2014 after shifts in state funding. Without such a shelter, people with mental illnesses are often one crisis away from the hospital or the streets.
And Ban and Gulbrandsen say the CAHOOTS crisis intervention program provides a service so valuable that it ought to be expanded.
Such new or strengthened strands in the social safety net would reduce the costs of homelessness — but the real benefit would not be financial. Ban speaks of what happens to people when they are “reinstilled with hope,” when they are “given permission to blossom.” The real benefit would come in the form of a recovery of human potential that is now being wasted.
Editor’s note: This editorial is part of a Register-Guard project focusing on productive responses to homelessness.
Reprinted with the permission of The Register-Guard. Originally published on April 2, 2017.
In February, ShelterCare hosted a trio of social service leaders from Corvallis who were on a fact-finding mission to see how housing and supportive services were being used to address homelessness in Lane County. The group was impressed with ShelterCare’s wide array of services but it was obvious that one program stood out in their minds from the rest: the Uhlhorn Program for survivors of acquired brain injury. They didn’t realize that such a unique and innovative program existed anywhere, let alone in the Willamette Valley.
Theirs was a common reaction for people who first hear about the Uhlhorn Program, which has been quietly changing lives for more than 26 years. The program is not a treatment facility. Instead, it provides independent living and supportive services in an apartment community specially designed to serve the needs of adults impacted by brain injury.
Programs like this are not common but they are necessary. In the United States, more than 2.2 million people are treated for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) every year. More than 5 million Americans are living with TBI-related disabilities, which can include mobility and memory impairment, communication problems and a host of behavioral issues, including depression and paranoia.
The Uhlhorn Program fills an existing gap in housing and services for TBI survivors. What happens when people recover to the point where they want more independence but need support for daily living? Assisted living facilities provide too much support but not enough independence and are a costly option. Moving in with family members who lack the expertise or time to provide the necessary support is less costly but not a good fit for many people. That’s where the Uhlhorn Program comes in.
The program was developed by its namesake, Bill Uhlhorn, ShelterCare’s visionary executive director in the 1970s and 1980s. He fought a long battle to build a home for the program on the former Lincoln School property in Eugene. Eventually, he pulled together a group of community-minded partners, obtained funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and started construction. The first tenants arrived in 1990—sadly, just months after Uhlhorn passed away.
Despite Bill’s death, the program thrived and his legacy remains strong in 2017. The program, funded primarily by a contract with the State of Oregon, now has two complexes providing 39 apartments for brain injury survivors. The overarching goal is to help clients move forward with their individualized recovery plans and achieve greater independence. Though the housing is permanent and clients can stay as long as they want, many choose to move to new housing options as they become more independent.
The Uhlhorn Program apartments are specially designed to meet the needs of people with short-term memory problems; features include open cabinets and timer-controlled cooktops. Staff is present seven days per week, providing counseling, advocacy and skills training designed to meet the individual need of each tenant. Counselor/Advocates help tenants with a variety of issues from medication management to personal finance to meal planning and preparation.
Lane County is grappling with a challenging homelessness problem, so it is natural to ask how the Uhlhorn Program fits in as a solution—the answer is “very well.” TBIs are thought to be a significant but underreported cause of homelessness. Studies in the UK and Canada have found that 45 to 70 percent of homeless adults have suffered a severe head injury earlier in their lives. Underreporting results because many brain injury survivors exhibit symptoms that are often mistaken for mental illness.
While a history of homelessness is not a requirement, many formerly homeless individuals join the Uhlhorn Program as part of their journey off the streets. It is common for other ShelterCare programs that serve homeless adults to refer new residents to Uhlhorn when people are discovered to have a brain injury in their medical history.
Looking forward, ShelterCare is hoping to enhance and expand the Uhlhorn Program. While there are no plans to develop new apartment complexes, it might be possible to offer Uhlhorn support services to brain injury victims living elsewhere in the community. Plus, Bill Uhlhorn’s vision will continue to spread beyond Lane County, as communities in other states use the Uhlhorn Program as a model and take steps to house and support their own survivors of acquired brain injury.
Ellen Winchester, Residential Specialist (L), and Kitti Wood-McCord, Peer Support Specialist (R), help young adults find stable housing
In October, ShelterCare launched a new housing program for young adults (18-24) who are homeless or imminently homeless and also living with a serious mental illness. Many left home due to family instability or because their family could not provide assistance with their mental health diagnosis.
The program was started with a grant from the State of Oregon to provide housing and services for 15 young adults. To date, we have moved four young people into housing and are working with four more to locate affordable housing.
Securing housing for this age group can be challenging, as most have no credit or rental history. They also struggle to find housing because they don’t have someone (like a parent) who can co-sign a lease to help build their rental history. That’s where ShelterCare can be of great assistance.
Each young adult in our program is paired with a Residential Specialist and a Peer Support Specialist. Ellen Winchester, our Residential Specialist, works with clients to find a perfect housing match. She works with landlords throughout the community that are willing to rent directly to our clients. ShelterCare can also create a master lease agreement with landlords. The process of finding a good housing match can be long, as Lane County is experiencing a shortage in affordable housing, so our team also provides encouragement to our clients as they experience the ups and downs of finding a place of their own.
By providing a safe place to live and building daily living skills, the chances are better that these young adults will become thriving members of the community.
“I enjoy working with the young adults because they are so full of hope,” Ellen says. “They have dreams and goals, and I can help them reach those goals by giving them a strong foundation.”
Once the young adults are housed, Kitti Wood-McCord, Peer Support Specialist, helps them identify and work toward their goals, such as volunteering, going back to school or getting a job, and then she helps them understand how important stable housing is to achieving their goals. She also helps clients learn how to live on their own, as most of them have never managed a household before.
The future is bright for this program and for the new residents who are working on creating stable futures for themselves.
Watch a recent KMTR news story about the housing shortage in Lane County, which features Kateylynn, a client in our young adult program, who just moved into an apartment of her very own.