Anniversary Interview Series with Sister Mary Scullion, Project H.O.M.E.

What have we learned about who needs supportive housing and who doesn’t?

Sister Mary Scullion: We have learned to meet people where they are.  This means listening and understanding what people want and working together to provide it.  People who have long histories of homelessness coupled with multiple hospitalizations usually want supportive housing.  Permanent supportive housing works for those who want to utilize the medical, employment, advocacy and educational development opportunities as well as an opportunity to develop a stronger social network.  The level of support will be different for people at various stages of recovery and homecoming.  And we have learned that even people facing the most gigantic barriers can make enormous strides and move from supportive housing to independent housing in the community -- and we hope they stay connected and continue to work with us to end homelessness as Project HOME alumni.

What have we learned from supportive housing’s experience in homelessness and how this lesson can be applied to other sectors?

Scullion: In the past 20 years, a variety of models and approaches have been tested and these have taught us about customizing services, the need for flexibility and a variety of service models, and about people’s ability to determine their own needs -- ideas which can easily be applied to healthcare, education, workforce development, and other spheres.  By providing people with a meaningful opportunity to succeed through affordable housing, health care, education and employment, we will save lives and save our society money.  Supportive housing is the single most important resource in preventing and addressing homelessness.  Additionally, the Interagency Council on Homelessness demonstrates that a cross-sector, multi-faceted, multi-investor approach is needed in many areas if we are to solve America’s most complex problems.

What are the most promising policy opportunities?

Scullion: If we want to end homelessness for today, we need to provide quality, affordable housing.  But if we want to end homelessness for the future, we must ensure a quality education for every child.  The move of HUD and HEARTH towards incentivizing permanent housing as the solution to homelessness is one great step in the right direction.  HEARTH also begins to make some inroads into coordination of education for homeless kids.  In the field of education, we need to focus attention on closing the gaps in opportunities, learning, and achievement between students from rich and poor families.  New policies must reverse decades-old trends that poor students get less experienced, less educated, and lower paid teachers.  Policies must promote low-income students’ access to advanced courses, information about post-high school options, and better school facilities, if we are to raise academic achievement and improve prospects for the future in a knowledge-based economy.

Given all the economic constraints, how do you make the case or what is the most compelling argument for supportive housing?

Scullion: Now, more than ever, the economic case for supportive housing resonates -- we can spend money housing people and families, or we can spend even more money continuing to serve people who live on our streets.  The development of affordable housing is also an economic multiplier creating jobs in many sectors of the economy.  In a time when so many Americans are feeling financial stress, there is a greater realization of the inter-connectedness of us all.  As we believe at Project HOME, “None of us is home until all of us are home.”

In 10 years from now what will supportive housing look like / what role will it play in our community?  What is your most radical bold vision?

Scullion: In 10 years, supportive housing will have a variety of models.  People will be able to choose and move seamlessly through a menu of services as their needs change.  There will be a vaccine for addictions that will change the face of recovery and there will be greater knowledge about interventions for behavioral health that will ensure a better quality of life for people and communities.  Every child will have access to a quality education.  Supportive housing will be located in every neighborhood.  People living in supportive housing will be fully integrated into the political, economic and cultural life of the community.

Sister Mary Scullion is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Project H.O.M.E.

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