Camden Coalition launches Housing First program

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Kenneth hugs Dorothy Scott, behavior specialist from South Jersey Behavioral Health, while nurse coordinator Nicole Douglas, also of SJBC, looks on

For the first time in eight years, Kenneth will have a home to welcome his grandchildren to this holiday season.

A 47-year old with multiple health conditions and end-stage liver disease, Kenneth has struggled to manage his health as he cycled in and out of the hospital, sometimes living in a shelter, sometimes on the street or in a single room in a rooming house with intermittent electricity.

Kenneth’s new home is the result of an innovative collaboration between the Camden Coalition, state and local government, and community partners. The partners have worked together for over a year to develop a program using a Housing First model for frequently hospitalized and unstably housed patients.

Fifty individuals will be housed through the program. Along with a safe and dignified place to call home, Kenneth will have help managing his health conditions through dedicated services provided by the Coalition and South Jersey Behavioral Health Resources (SJBHR) with the goal of avoiding hospitalizations and in-patient stays.

For many years, the Camden Coalition’s Dr. Jeffrey Brenner has insisted that for many of the hardest-to-help patients, “housing is the best pill.” Homeless and unstably housed individuals often lack the stability to manage chronic health conditions or to make healthy behavioral change, cycling through hospitals and emergency rooms as their conditions worsen. As states, cities and policymakers look for ways to achieve better health care outcomes at lower cost, it has become clear that ending chronic homelessness through permanent supportive housing must be part of that strategy.

“Anyone working in health care in Camden can identify homelessness as a huge barrier to better health,” said Mark Humowiecki, director of external affairs at the Camden Coalition. “This was a huge project, and the world of housing is very complex – but we went forward with it because we knew it was the right thing to do. It needed the entire community to pull together to make it happen.”

Housing First is an evidence-based approach that provides permanent supportive housing without preconditions. It is designed for individuals who have traditionally been excluded from permanent housing, and provides the support needed to encourage long-term change.

Although it serves the hardest-to-house population, across the country Housing First programs report a 90% retention rate. Both the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the New Jersey Interagency Council on Homelessness have endorsed the Housing First model.

The Camden Coalition and its partners, which include Volunteers of America Delaware Valley (VoA), St. Joseph Carpenter Society, and Oaks Integrated Care as well as SJBH, have worked together to develop a high-fidelity, scattered-site Housing First program in South Jersey, centered around Camden. The patients selected for the program will have been hospitalized at least twice in six months, have two or more chronic health conditions, and be homeless or unstably housed. The program is funded in its first year by the Department of Community Affairs, NJ, the Camden County Homeless Trust Fund, Virtua Foundation and Cooper University Hospital.

In the News

About South Jersey Housing First:

Homeless man gets his own apartment
Kim Mulford, Courier Post
Housing initiative launched in Camden
Kim Mulford, Courier Post
Housing First advocates look to expand, take program statewide
Andrew Kitchenman, NJ Spotlight
There’s no place like home in health care: Housing the homeless is key to controlling costs
Jeffrey Brenner, MD and Elizabeth Buck,

About Housing First

How giving apartments to homeless actually saves money in the end
Robbie Couch, Huffington Post 
The shockingly simple, surprisingly cost-effective solution to homelessness
Scott Carrier, Mother Jones Magazine
Home Free?
James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

More Housing First resources:

Other Housing First programs in NJ

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