Pima County seeking help to get homeless into housing and out of jail

Out of jail and into housing

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County is soliciting providers to participate in a new pilot housing program which is designed to keep some of the hard core homeless off the streets and out of jail.

The program, called Permanent Supportive Housing, is meant to address the chronic problems many homeless face such as drug addiction or mental health issues.

It’s fully funded by the county which means it’s not under the constraints oftentimes imposed by the state or federal guidelines.

To be eligible, a person must have been in jail twice in a year, have a drug or mental health issue and be homeless.

The county estimates at least 500 homeless fit that criteria. It hopes to house 150 of them with a budget of $2.5 million to $3 million over two years.

It has asked non profit groups to submit applications online to help house them. The county feels the cost of the program will be made up by savings in other areas.

“Right now they’re using the highest cost which is the jail, the ERs, the crisis response center,” said Matt Pate, the program manager.

Pate believes getting them into permanent housing will alleviate those issues by providing some stability.

“It’s a challenge to make appointments and stay on those regiments if you’re experiencing homelessness,” Pate said. “So getting them in stable housing is really step one in getting them into treatment.”

Pima County is part of a nationwide trend to keep non violent offenders out of jail when other alternatives are available.

The county was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant three years ago to find ways to ease the incarceration problem and the economic issues it creates.

This is the first time the county has offered a program on its own. It will provide job training, scheduling, counseling and treatment to those who want it.

Even the experts agree there are some who don’t want to be housed and prefer to live on the streets. The county program won’t force people into housing but hopes it can gain the trust needed to get them to participate.

“Maybe after a certain number of years they don’t need the case management anymore, they can live well on their own as individuals and not need that level of service,” said Terrance Cheung, the director of Justice Reform Initiatives.

He believes some may become self reliant enough they can go to work part time or in some cases, maybe full time.

Other cities, such as Denver and Salt Lake City, have undertaken a similar approach with proven success. Salt Lake City saw a 91 percent drop in homelessness a decade ago.

The county is not trying to reinvent the wheel but believes a similar program can work here.

The two-year program will be evaluated by the Rand Corporation, which will independently verify the results. It will also offer technical advice.

“For a lot of folks with substance abuse and mental health issues, jail is the place they want to go to,” said Cheung. “We’re trying to change that.”

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