Mayor's Homeless Summit FAQs
Thank you to everyone who attended the Mayor’s Summit on Homelessness on Thursday, July 18, 2019. Over 450 individuals attended in person, and the Facebook Live video has over 6,000 views as of this writing!
We received an abundance of questions from the Mayor’s Summit on Homeless both at the summit and through Facebook and email channels. As part of our commitment to continuing this important community conversation, here are the questions – and answers.
● How can faith communities get involved with Housing First?
We need communities of faith to be part of our collective efforts, and there are several areas for involvement. Several faith-based organizations have started food pantries, which are a very big help. Even after people are living in homes, they are still living in poverty - and food insecurity is a significant issue. In some areas, different groups of faith have worked with social service agencies to connect with a family or individuals who need support, especially around social inclusion activities. Many people after they are housed are still isolated, and case managers are focused on connecting them with healthcare, benefits, education etc. However, it is beneficial for other groups to agree to give the person a call every other day or offer an invite to a picnic, movie or to church or bible study to help address the loneliness and isolation that comes from being disconnected. Also providing financial assistance when emergencies come up (such as falling behind on an electric bill) would be of great benefit.
● How can the chronically homeless population who cycle through inpatient psychiatric facilities participate in Housing First programs?
Housing First was originally created to serve the chronically homeless and mentally ill, so they are a great referral for a Housing First program. Unfortunately, we only have one Housing First program that provides the required intensive supports, and that program is currently full. Advocating with community homeless leaders and local hospitals to create more of these programs as an option would be helpful. Several Housing First programs have been an extension of psychiatric hospitals as a way to stop the revolving door of admittance. This population needs intensive supports that are brought to their home- usually the case-management mode of choice is what is known as an Assertive Community Treatment Team.
● What programs exist in Amarillo for those with a psychiatric diagnosis who need a greater amount of support to successfully live independently?
Texas Panhandle Services is the mental health authority for the Texas Panhandle, and should be the first call. TPS has several programs to support people who are coping with serious mental illness, and are also in need of housing support.
● What is the main reason Amarillo has such a high number of homeless individuals?
There is no simple answer. Part of the reason is the level of poverty in some areas of Amarillo. The United Way has information on their websites about poverty in our area. There is also a lack of intensive case management services to assist people once they are housed so they can remain housed. We also need more preventive strategies to keep people from falling into homelessness.
● How can we merge resources to work toward solutions?
We need organizations like housing authorities and organizations to that provide case-management to work hand-in-hand. We need both housing and intensive services that are provided in the home. We also need stronger collaboration among agencies so when someone enters into homelessness we work together to make it a very brief experience.
● Are we aware that several cities continually ship their homeless to Amarillo?
This is something talked about frequently, but at this point we do not have data that supports this assertion. However, during our upcoming Point In Time count, this is a question we are instructing volunteers to ask so we have a better understanding of where people come from if they are not from Amarillo, and the exact numbers.
● How can buildings and facilities that are not being used solve the problem of housing, while eliminating the urban blight some of these buildings and facilities cause?
In some communities, not-for-profit developers have done this by renovating existing buildings and creating mixed income units. As an example, 50 percent of the buildings would be Fair Market Rent, and 25 percent would be 20 percent below market value, etc.
● Can there really be substantial change without legislative support?
Absolutely - significant changes have already been made in terms of new programs, new models and collaboration between agencies. But it is a thorny issue, and obtaining more legislative support is certainly something to work toward.
● Has Amarillo considered doing the pilot program that Austin did for homeless veterans?
Not at this point, but we are open to all ideas that show strong outcomes based on reliable data.
● Is nursing home placement considered “housing?”
A nursing home placement could be considered housing for a person who needs that level of care and chooses that level of care. This depends on if this is a person who still has capacity - in terms of the legal definition of capacity.
● The Texas/Oklahoma Dust Bowl produced legendary “climate migrants.” In the future, can our cities expect climate migrants in need of shelter and housing?
That is difficult to predict. The upcoming Point in Time count and continued use of our Homeless Management Database will provide more specific information.
● How can we change the minds of individuals with contrasting feelings and those running shelters?
We need a variety of services in our community. We may not need to change anyone’s mind. We need to utilize the Housing First model for the chronically homeless. The goal is to be additive in terms of options. Many communities start by having a pilot Housing First program, and then if implemented correctly, the results and outcomes assist people in becoming more comfortable with expanding the model.
● Where can 15 to 17-year-olds without homes (unaccompanied minors) go on a temporary basis in Amarillo? They are too young for Salvation Army and too old for Faith City Mission.
Catholic Charities runs an excellent youth shelter – but they need more beds. This is an area of concern that is getting more recognition from HUD, and we have several community leaders in the area that are also interested in taking on this issue.
● Does the increase in drug use correlate with the increase in homelessness?
We have not studied that specifically. Drug and alcohol abuse certainly can be factors in homelessness, but often there are many other factors, such as significant trauma, loss of a job and death of significant others. There are many who use alcohol and drugs, but do not end up homeless.
● Is there a requirement that those with addiction issues are in treatment when they are in housing?
Housing First does not have that requirement to receive housing. What is a requirement is that participants work with their case manager, who makes house visits at a minimum once a week. Participants also pay 30 percent of their income towards rent. The case manger works with the clients in creative ways to build a relationship. Housing First is a clinical program that has housing as one of many components.
● Shouldn’t we also focus on improving the socio-economic situation of those living in poverty as an act of intervention for those who are just one incident away from homelessness?
Absolutely - this is a key to preventing homelessness.
● Is there a plan for clients to work toward a living-wage career? If not, is there a danger of reoccurrence?
The housing and supports are permanent for as long as needed. We absolutely encourage people to work and obtain their education, etc. Each person has different goals, though the vast majority wants to work. We have several who have disabilities, but still want to be productive, and we support people in volunteer activities.
● How much of the City of Amarillo budget (excluding grants, fundraising, etc.) goes into ending homelessness?
● If Amarillo increases the amount of “Coming Home” vouchers, where will that funding come from?
Vouchers come from HUD, and they are vouchers that have already been allocated to our housing authority.
● Could this impact funding for agencies that directly provide services to individuals experiencing homelessness, but not housing services?
No, the City of Amarillo Housing Authority works closely with several different agencies, including Texas Panhandle Services, VetStar, the VA, Downtown Women’s Center and the GSRC to provide vouchers for homeless clients or clients in transitional living.
● How can service providers assist with the ongoing need of substance abuse treatment once these individuals are housed?
Be willing to work with them where they are in their recovery process, and do not insist that they are clean and sober before receiving treatment. Utilize the stage of change model, by Miller and Rollnick, to target the intervention to fit where the person is at in the stages of change.
● The No. 1 reason for homelessness is substance abuse. Putting someone with these issues in a home first and then offering services later cannot work well. Why would someone have a desire to change at that point?
We need to agree to disagree on your assertion regarding the Number 1 reason for homelessness. But why would someone want to change? Once a person is housed, he or she becomes invested in remaining housed. They have hope they can achieve other things, like employment, reconnecting with family and helping others. The case-managers are intensely involved to help them see the discrepancy between their stated goals and current behaviors, and to work with them on strategies to make those changes. Addiction is not a party. It takes tremendous effort, and people are in tremendous emotional and psychological pain, and if we need to help people cope with that pain while they are making changes.
● Why are the definitions of homelessness different? AISD has one; HUD has another. The chronic definition changes every few years.
Why is a difficult question and more research is needed. Most public schools systems use the same definition as AISD. The chronic definition of homelessness, as currently defined by HUD, has been the same for several years.
● How can we house individuals in a more rural city without causing fatigue with landlords?
It is very important to provide support to landlords. They need to have someone they can call, like a case manager, when things are not working. How can we be sure we don’t expend those resources? Providing granted rent is very helpful – which is why many landlords have agreed to work with HUD. In addition, assistance in funding for repairs if the renter’s deposit is exceeded is helpful.
● Do we naturally have a higher homeless count because of the I-40 corridor?
This is an assumption about which we hope to get more information.
● How do we more effectively enlist the economic engine that drives our economy (local businesses) to fund Amarillo’s homeless programs?
One option would be to set up a housing trust – many other cities have done this.
● I know of individuals who refuse to live in housing. So how can you totally end homelessness?
We keep trying, and when one of the options is a home of their own, most will make this choice.
● What percentage of homelessness cannot be eliminated because of the will/actions of homeless individuals?
Housing First, if implemented correctly, can have an 85 percent success rate.
● Where does Housing First get its statistics? Numerous academic and research projects have been conducted across the US, Canada and other countries.
● What’s the story with homelessness in Los Angeles? Why is the problem actually growing right in Dr. Tsemberis’ backyard?
Dr. Tsemberis was asked to come to Los Angeles to assist. His actual backyard is in New Jersey. A significant reason could be the lack of affordable housing and taking earlier action.
● How does providing homes in this model help end the cost of emergency room visits and medical needs from the uninsured? They may get homes, but they still have medical needs.
True - many have complex medical needs, but by having a support person, like a case-manager, working with them in their home, we are able to connect them with medical care. We can be more proactive so that emergency rooms are not used for primary care.
● Are social workers who are providing continued support for recently-housed people on someone's payroll? How many social workers are there? What are the plans to expand this?
Many homeless service agencies have social workers – the Coming Home staff is currently paid out of the City of Amarillo general fund revenue. The plan for expansion includes applying for grants through HUD, as well as foundations, partnering with other agencies and billing Medicaid for psychosocial rehabilitation services for clients who are disabled. We are working to set up that infrastructure.
● Is there a centralized list of services to fill in the gaps others does not see?
The most comprehensive list is held by 211.
● Why not build a community that has space for tents and tiny homes for those that want an indoor place? Or buy one a motel and remodel it with kitchenettes and remove the parking lots for tents?
It is important to ask people where they want to live so they will be invested in their housing. The majority of people say they would like to live in an apartment or home, just like anyone else.
● Do you plan on counting the homeless children in the Amarillo Independent School District?
We do - this is a critical issue that needs more attention.
● Is there a plan for low barrier shelter?
We have several shelters, and the Guyon Saunders Resource Center functions as a day shelter. There is not a current plan to create another shelter. The goal is to support people with permanent solutions, like housing with support. This does not mean we do not need shelters or the day room, but the goal is to have people spend shorter periods of time in emergency and acute settings while they are on the road to recovery.
● Is there a census that gives us an idea what state from which homeless people come?
That question is asked during the Point-In-Time count.
● Is the video of the Mayor’s Homeless Summit available to view?
Yes. The video in its entirety is available on the City of Amarillo Facebook page and with this blog.
● Where can I get more information? How can I get involved?
Check out the City of Amarillo Community Development website. Research an agency - and if you are in support of the mission, this agency would welcome a volunteer. See the homeless not as a category, but as a brother or sister.
We have received, and continue to receive, a LOT of questions on this topic, and we love the feedback and interaction! If we missed your question or you would like to submit another one, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you were unable to attend the summit and would like to hear the information that was presented, check out the complete video of the summit below.