April 6, 2010

Our View: Florence House offers what homeless women need most

The most effective way of treating homelessness can be providing people with a place to live.

There are a lot of factors that work together to make someone chronically homeless. Someone may have a mental illness, a physical disability or addiction to alcohol or drugs. But the undeniable common factor is that they don't have a home.

For a group of women who have been long-term homeless residents of the city, that deficit is about to be filled. With the opening of Florence House, they will have a safe place of their own where they can try to work on the other issues that have put them on the street.

Florence House, which will be operated by Preble Street, a Portland-based housing agency, reflects the latest thinking in combating homelessness. The movement known as Housing First is based on the observation that a small number of people are consuming most of the resources dedicated to fighting homelessness. In addition to using an inordinate number of shelter beds, chronically homeless people also strain police, emergency rooms and state mental health resources with few positive results. Under the Housing First model, residents are guaranteed a secure place to live with as much supervision as needed. After placement, they can start addressing their underlying problems.

Treating the chronically homeless in this way not only saves money and provides better outcomes, it frees up resources for people who because of a temporary financial crisis need a place to sleep -- which is what homeless shelters are supposed to be for.

Florence House, which will also have shelter beds for women, has a chance to make a positive difference in people's lives by addressing the thing all homeless people lack -- a home.


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