Solutions Uncategorized

Housing is Hope

Pathways Helps Homeless People Integrate Back into the Community

Deafening rain smacked against the tin roof of a rusted old pickup truck. A soothing sound to some, it signaled an all-too-familiar threat for this young Central Florida resident. Attempting to get comfortable, he struggled to stretch out his legs and rest his head on the side panel inside the vehicle. He pulled a tattered blanket over his head, closed his eyes and was overcome with grief.

This is one of the many stories clients have told Joel McNair, director of Florida operations at Pathways, an integral partner with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and the Central Florida Homeless Assistance Network. In his 28 years with Pathways, McNair has heard about so many hardships clients have faced.

“One client’s leg was amputated while he was homeless,” McNair recalled. “Being housed has given him the opportunity to have prosthetics shipped to his apartment with a limited in-home physical therapy component, which really helps keep his spirits up and motivates him to keep pushing forward.”

Built upon the foundation that homes end homelessness, a program the region is using today called Housing First places applicable candidates, or chronically homeless individuals, into homes and provides them with the support and care to end the cycle of homelessness.

“The Housing First approach integrates the belief that vulnerable and at-risk homeless individuals are more responsive to interventions and support services after they are in their own housing,” McNair said. With a 98% retention rate and community savings of more than $13,000 per person per year, the Housing First model is a solution for all members of a community.

Chronically homeless individuals are those with severe mental illnesses and other disabilities who have histories of multiple prior hospitalizations, significant functional impairments, unemployment or underemployment, limited interpersonal skills and limited natural supports.

“One woman was living in the woods for years because she couldn’t get away from addiction and mental health issues,” McNair said. “We just signed her lease for the third year in housing, and she is now doing very well. She has received mental health assistance and has been clean for two years since being housed. I see her volunteering her time to help other people get to their doctor appointments, and she often cooks food for others who need it.”

Pathways provides comprehensive case management services to assist chronically homeless adults and places them into permanent supportive housing, while providing them with the intensive wraparound services they need to reintegrate into stable community living.

All clients receive assistance in continuing to strengthen learned skills that support community integration and employment, such as medication management, symptom management, daily living skills and development of personal support systems. “The services are designed to enhance each consumer’s skills and enable them to become more self-sufficient,” said McNair, who is a licensed mental health counselor.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs classifies physiological needs and safety as the most basic of human constructs. After those two aspects are secured and met on a consistent basis, then the mind can flourish, and the individual can become a positive, functioning member of society. McNair recited case after case of success stories that reinforced the fact that the Housing First model of care works. The program addresses health. It fosters care. It incites hope. 

Changing Lives

By Shelley Lauten, CEO
Central Florida Commission on Homelessness


What comes “top of mind” when you consider what makes you proud of living in Central Florida? Did homelessness make  your Top 10 list?

It should.

In fact, less than 10 years ago, leaders in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties committed to a new model of seeking permanent solutions to our homelessness crisis. We shifted from a fragmented, organization-by-organization approach providing short-term immediate needs (think temporary shelter, food and clothing) to a regionally coordinated effort that gets people permanently housed and supported … a model of care called Housing First.

The transition to a Housing First approach has not been an easy one. Change is hard! And it seemed overwhelming. So we started small. We identified 100 of the most chronically homeless neighbors in our community to see if we could do what we saw other communities do — house them, keep them housed and do it more cost-effectively than leaving them on our streets.

The results were astounding. By working together within a coordinated system, we placed 339 individuals into housing with a retention rate of 97% and at a cost to the community of nearly $13,000 less per person than having them live on our streets.

Impressive. Innovative. Life-changing for our neediest of neighbors. However, now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

The 2019 homeless population count found 2,010 individuals living on the streets on one night in January across the region. This count reflects only those who are literally homeless … not those living in hotels and motels, or doubled up with other families.

Housing and supporting our literally homeless population is one part of our strategy. And, while the region has housed and provided support services to more than 900 individuals, we now have to scale this system to house other individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

And what about those who are precariously housed — typically only one crisis away from ending up on our streets? Like our efforts with
our literally homeless population, we must start  small and build an innovative, coordinated system of care for those who are facing growing economic pressures driven by escalating costs of housing, childcare, insurance
and transportation while wages remain stagnant.

My tenure at the commission comes to an end this month. I am proud and privileged to have been a part of the change that has housed and supported individuals previously living on our streets or in our shelters. I can’t wait to see how far we will go in expanding and sustaining this very young, very fragile system of care over the next five years to ensure homelessness across Central Florida is rare, brief and a one-time occurrence for individuals, families and youths.

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About the author

Central Florida Commission on Homelessness

The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness convenes nonprofits, faith-based institutions, government entities, philanthropic initiatives, businesses and other charitable and community organizations to develop a shared vision and implement agreed upon community-based solutions.

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