PHILADELPHIA – (October 12, 2017) More than 300 chronically homeless people in Philadelphia are now off the streets, out of shelters and into permanent supportive housing. Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services (OHS) announced today that the city permanently housed a record 339 chronically homeless individuals during the 12-month period ending August 2017 successfully transitioning nearly one person a day. A chronically homeless person is someone with a disabling condition who has been homeless for a year or more or at multiple times over several years.
The city placed some individuals directly from the street and transitioned others who were already in the homeless services system from shelters, safe havens and residential drug treatment programs. Most – 272 – were initially brought into the system after being engaged by homeless outreach workers at SEPTA’s underground Center City Concourse, Two Penn Center and in Kensington.
The bulk of the remaining 67 people had been engaged outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, in Aviator Park/Logan Square, along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and in Rittenhouse Square while a small group came from 30th Street Station, Society Hill’s Head House Square and South Philadelphia’s Pennsport neighborhood. This geographical breakdown is generally proportional to where most people experiencing street homelessness are living in Philadelphia.
Homeless Services Director Liz Hersh said the accomplishment stems from the 100-day street homelessness challenge her office launched in June 2016 in partnership with more than a dozen of the city’s homeless provider agencies. “The idea was to bring all the different pieces together and collectively jumpstart ambitious yet actionable solutions to homelessness within a period of 100 days,” Hersh said. “We accomplished that and after reaching the 100-day mark, we continued the work, breaking down barriers and implementing what we came up with.”
Starting with the 100-day challenge, providers and city officials broke out into teams. The “chronic homelessness” team created one by-name list of Philadelphians experiencing chronic homelessness and established a single point of contact for each, enabling the team to identify and address their unique circumstances individually. “It’s incredibly labor-intensive,” Hersh said. “By the time someone is chronically homeless, the pain and trauma in their life are so great that it takes a herculean effort to bring them in.”
She said a “cornerstone” of the effort is the longstanding partnership between OHS and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) because “without addiction, mental health, trauma and other critical behavioral health services, the model of permanent supportive housing simply does not work.”
Permanent supportive housing is a long-tem rent subsidy provided through OHS combined with behavioral health services provided by DBHIDS to help chronically homeless individuals maintain stable housing and achieve other positive outcomes, such as improved health and reduced use of the city’s crisis services, including costly emergency room visits, psychiatric admissions and stays in a homeless shelter. The model has been shown repeatedly to cost Philadelphia taxpayers less money than street homelessness and it has an average success rate of 90 percent in preventing a return to homelessness in Philadelphia.
The city has an inventory of about 6,000 units of permanent supportive housing and the Philadelphia Housing Authority has provided an additional 3,500 units over the past nine years. While the housing program is intended to provide permanent residency as its name suggests, there are instances where individuals voluntarily transition out of supportive housing as their circumstances change.
Along with OHS and DBHIDS, members of the “chronically homeless” team from the 100-day street homelessness challenge include the following homeless provider agencies: Bethesda Project, Broad Street Ministry, Horizon House, Mental Health Partnership, Mission First Housing, One Day At A Time, Pathways to Housing PA, Project HOME and Prevention Point Philadelphia.