Anniversary Interview Series with Chairwoman Karen Diver

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

Karen Diver: Supportive Housing is for the chronic and long-term homeless who face multiple barriers to retaining housing.  Some people face short-term housing loss due to financial crisis;  Supportive housing best serves those individuals and families who struggle with combinations of chemical dependency, mental health and health  issues, lack of life skills and formal education, to name a few.   The case management has been shown to reduce the use of crisis services like emergency room care, detox services, and child welfare.

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

Diver: We have learned that prevention services have a significant impact on the use of crisis care.  By offering tenants the opportunity and support, we see reductions in duration of alcohol and chemical use, better management of chronic health conditions and decreased contact with law enforcement and judicial systems.

What are the most promising policy opportunities?

Diver: A committed long-term investment in Supportive Housing offers opportunity for multi-agency collaboration.  We have seen this happening at the local level in developing the service models.  At the federal level, this is not being done as yet.  There are the beginnings of conversations around veteran’s housing between the VA and HUD.  This needs to be expanding to the Department of Health and Human Services among others to coordinate and leverage funding strategies and partnerships.

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

Diver: Obviously with social services and other governmental systems feeling budgetary strain, investment in supportive housing has shown to have positive impacts in long-term costs to multiple systems of government, from law enforcement to the judiciary, mental health and chemical dependency commitments, truancy and child welfare.  Just as health care reform is focusing on investment in prevention, to the most vulnerable in our society supportive housing offers a housing first options with services that focuses on reducing crisis intervention.

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?

Diver: Supportive Housing will be better coordinated with the existing systems of housing  and social service delivery, with stable funding to assure both rental subsidies and case management systems.  Communities will have capacity to make sure that every person has the ability to sleep in a bed and adequate food, with the option to truly thrive in future.

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