CSH Anniversary Interview Series with Joe Finn, Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance

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

Joe Finn: We still need to define the width and breadth of the need for supportive housing resources for specific need populations in communities around the country. However, we have learned that there is a significant population of unaccompanied homeless adults for whom the lack of appropriate permanent supportive housing practically condemns them to a life on the street or languishing in shelter year after year. This is not only damaging to their health and quality of life, but also quite costly to the public as a whole because of this population’s utilization of expensive services across all systems of care, but most particularly, their use of emergency and acute health care. Failed systems of care have created this situation and the responses being developed by low-threshold housing providers are showing the way out of this costly dilemma. As far as who does not need supportive housing, we can never forget that a significant number of people are homeless solely because of economic circumstances and do not need service-intensive responses.  They simply need adequate and affordable housing.

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

Finn: The critical lesson I have learned from supportive housing in homelessness is the need to adapt our service delivery systems to meet the specific needs of the population we serve rather than simply own organizational needs. The importance of developing supportive housing models that are non-compliance based is crucial to reducing the number of homeless individuals on the street and reducing the need for emergency shelters. This has not been an easy enterprise but a rather challenging one that requires adopting a new perspective that often flies in the face of common wisdom and values within the world of human services. Contrary to misrepresentations about the “Housing First” movement, supportive housing is not meant as a replacement for treatment, sober housing or any number of residential settings of varying degrees of therapeutic benefit, but instead as an alternative to the streets or shelter. In my own experience, I have come to this understanding through exposure to other sectors. The most influential book I read that allowed me to convince others of a new approach to homelessness was Michael Lewis’ "Moneyball" –- a book that highlights the danger of conventiona

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