In 2012, Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) Community Support Services (CSS) leadership was researching effective jail diversion models that would reduce recidivism and save public dollars, and discovered CSH’s Frequent User Systems Engagement, or FUSE.
Based on what they learned from CSH, Mecklenburg County created a local FUSE initiative known as MeckFUSE – an interagency effort providing supportive housing to individuals that cycle between the criminal justice and homeless shelter systems in the County, home of the City of Charlotte.
The Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has now thoroughly evaluated MeckFUSE and today released the results of its study.
The three-year process and outcomes evaluation demonstrated improved housing stability, reduced rates of jail and shelter utilization, and reduced hospital charges. Overall, MeckFUSE is deemed successful in reducing system utilization costs among participants.
Key findings of the MeckFUSE evaluation conclude:
- Nearly all (98%) of MeckFUSE participants had an adult conviction record with a mean of approximately 13 adult convictions.
- Over 90% of participants reported spending more than 12 months in a homeless shelter or other place not meant for habitation. Of those, the mean time of homelessness was approximately 11 years.
- MeckFUSE participants demonstrated a 90% two-year housing retention rate.
- MeckFUSE participants demonstrated significant reductions in shelter usage (87%), ambulance service charges (24%), and hospital charges (43%).
- Housed participants were arrested significantly less than a comparison group (4.5 vs. 9.3 arrests) and had much longer average times to re-arrest post-housing.
- A majority of participants indicated that MeckFUSE had significantly improved their lives and relationships with their families. For example, 57% of the participants indicated that the program helped them improve relationships with their children.
The evaluation, which followed program participants for two years and used a quasi-experimental matched comparison group design, is noteworthy because there are few studies that follow participants longer-term. One such study reviewed New York City's FUSE program.
Together, the studies make a strong case for continuing to serve frequent users of high cost systems, and to providing housing and supportive services with no pre-conditions for entry into the program.
Mecklenburg County plans to continue the MeckFUSE program, operated through a contract with Urban Ministry Center, an interfaith community agency working to end homelessness.