City, County Spend Big Bucks On Homeless Housing

By: Jennifer Bocchieri Email
By: Jennifer Bocchieri Email

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's a new project to find homes for the chronically homeless.

Wichita and Sedgwick County are teaming up to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on helping the homeless. The goal is to get hundreds of chronically homeless off the streets for good.

That's why the United Way started the "Housing First" pilot program last June. It set seven homeless people up in apartments to get them stable and get them services.

Almost a year later the result is," We're very pleased to say all seven occupants have remained in the program the entire time. It's another sign that Housing First is something that works," said United Way of the Plains President Pat Hanrahan.

Now Wichita and Sedgwick county are expanding the program. Commissioners voted Wednesday morning to split the almost $400,000 cost to pay for 64 apartments city-wide.

It's a program that's been successful in other cities and states, especially in cutting costs. The government typically spends more than $40,000 a year taking care of each homeless person on the street. This project cuts the cost in half.

"I do know if we keep doing what we've always done we're going to keep pouring money down the drain that is getting us very little results," said County Commissioner Tim Norton.

But there are skeptics. Commissioner Karl Peterjohn is concerned that people don't have to agree to get help with their mental disabilities or drug or alcohol problems to get an apartment.

"My experience as an economist is if you provide incentives for misbehavior or improper behavior you will get more of it," said Peterjohn.

But advocates say those efforts have failed in the past. That those who are most at risk typically aren't successfull at getting treatment until they are in stable housing. And they say simply continuing with programs that haven't made a dent in the homeless population doesn't make sense.

"Wouldn't it be better if we can solve the problem and that's what we want to do," said Hanrahan.

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