Housing program saves dollars, dignity
(Watch video) – When factoring the costs of jail, shelters, and emergency room visits, taxpayers pay about $40,000 for every homeless person who lives on the streets for one year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Twin Cities Salvation Army is striving to solve this problem through an innovative program called Group Residential Housing (GRH), funded by Hennepin County.
“Once we get them into housing, we make sure they stay in housing,” said one of the caseworkers, Cami Case (pictured), who is based at The Salvation Army Harbor Light Shelter in Minneapolis.
Case and her fellow caseworkers help the men and women stay housed by:
- Managing their finances. The caseworkers pay each participant’s rent and utility bills using money from their social security or general assistance payments.
- Teaching them life skills. This includes grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning a home, and much more. “Those things may seem easy, but for someone with a mental health disability, it can be a struggle,” said Case, who takes several participants grocery shopping once a month.
- Working with their landlords. “We give landlords assurance that a Salvation Army caseworker is guiding and supporting the tenant,” Case said.
To qualify for GRH, participants must: 1. Have been homeless for one continuous year or have had four episodes of homelessness in three years. 2. Have a doctor-confirmed physical or mental health disability.
Successes and challenges
Although most GRH participants live with a mental illness, some do not. That includes a 56-year-old man named Irvin, who landed in the program about a year ago. He had undergone a total knee replacement that ultimately left him homeless.
“My knee got so bad that I couldn’t work and I couldn’t pay rent,” said Irvin, who’d been working his entire life as a skilled labor, equipment operator, and personal trainer.
With help from Case, Irvin now lives in a Minneapolis apartment for residents 55 and older.
“Cami is Superwoman,” Irvin said. “She is the greatest.”
“Finding housing for a person can take anywhere from three months to a year and a half – sometimes longer,” Case said. “It all depends on the person and what their barriers are. Meanwhile, they have to continue staying at shelters, with friends, or under bridges.”
The GRH caseworkers at Harbor Light are currently assisting about 55 people who have secured housing, plus another five people who are trying to find housing.
GRH and supportive housing programs like it provide dignity and stability to society’s most vulnerable adults. These programs also save thousands of tax dollars, including medical expenses that average between $18,500 and $44,500, per homeless person, per year. According to greendoors.org, permanent supportive housing:
- Reduces health care costs by 59 percent
- Decreases emergency room costs by 61 percent
- Slashes general inpatient hospitalizations by 77 percent
Watch Case explain more about her role in GRH, and how the program helps people.