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Boise State study: Housing for chronically homeless saves community $2.66 million


New Path Community Housing, Idaho’s first supportive permanent housing community for the chronically homeless, achieved $2.66 million in savings for the community over two years, according to a new report from Boise State University.

The report comes amid discussions by the Ada County Commission to trim funding for the program.

New Path Community Housing is a 40-unit housing complex in Boise which has apartments and supportive services for formerly homeless Ada County residents.

[Ada County Commissioners question price tag, services at Housing First project]

Researchers at BSU’s Idaho Policy Institute on Wednesday released a second annual evaluation of the New Path program.

Savings due to decreased service use

The more than $2.6 million in community savings is due to a reduction in participants’ use of reactive services, such as the emergency medical system and criminal justice system, the report found. Emergency services dropped 60% among tenants after they entered the program, the report found.

“Stable housing, combined with supportive services, enables residents to more reliably keep vital health appointments,” said Heidi Hart, CEO of Terry Reilly Health Services, which provides health care to program participants. “Over 70% of the residents are regularly engaging in on-site services, while the remaining residents live independently without the need for routine on-site support. When we remove barriers — in this case the lack of housing — people are more able to engage in care to resolve other issues like substance use disorders, literacy and employability.”

The program also improved the overall well-being of residents, measured using the World Health Organization Quality of Life Assessment and the Patient Health Questionnaire used for screening, diagnosing and monitoring depression. Residents, especially those who stayed in the program for longer periods, saw positive gains in both measurements, according to the report.

[Homelessness on wheels: Boise Police, social workers launch new initiative for those living in vehicles in downtown Boise]

The report lists a number of challenges for the program. Those include poor communication among program partners and staff; some participants require more intensive support than the program is designed to provide; and funding instability is creating unease among participants and staff.

New Path, which opened in late 2018, is a “Permanent Supportive Housing” and “Housing First” program. That means individuals and families experiencing homelessness are provided permanent housing without preconditions, and they’re offered supportive services such as case management, substance dependence treatment and mental health support.

Construction of the facility was funded by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and the city of Boise. Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities assigned 40 housing vouchers to the program. Local health care systems St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus each donate $100,000 annually to fund on-site services. Ada County also provides $312,000 for on-site services, which totaled $512,000 in 2020.

Beck: ‘failed model’

Future funding from Ada County is in jeopardy, however. Ada County Commissioners, during a budget workshop last month, discussed eliminating the county’s contribution to the program but ultimately decided to decrease it to $200,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, which has yet to be finalized.

Commissioner Rod Beck said Housing First is a “failed model” and suggested New Path switch to a “Treatment First” model, which requires sobriety before independent housing is provided. Beck said he was opposed to the $312,000 county payment.

“We know it doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s a failed model across the country.”

Commissioner Kendra Kenyon suggested maintaining some funding for the program — that way, the county could require conditions, such as mandatory treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues.

[Ada Co. Commissioners cut New Path funding, look for changes]

“If we pull everything out then we don’t have a voice in it, a say,” she said. “I would rather us contribute something and continue in partnership with them to see if we can’t improve what they’re trying to do.”

BSU’s report warns against changing the Housing First model. The program approach, which “is meeting the needs of the majority of residents and creating significant cost savings for the community,” necessitates “permanent housing with no preconditions alongside provision of supportive services,” the report says.

“Therefore, the successful outcomes produced in New Path’s first two years may only continue into the future if fidelity to the (Permanent Supportive Housing)/Housing First approach is maintained,” it says. “Any changes in the program’s design will impact continuity of program outcomes.”

Ryan Suppe - Idaho Press reporter
Ryan Suppe - Idaho Press reporter
Ryan Suppe is a reporter for Meridian Press, Kuna-Melba News and The Idaho Press. Follow him on twitter, @salsuppe.

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