PORTLAND — The “housing-first” concept to end chronic homelessness was not created in the city, but its implementation has led to national recognition for Portland agencies.

“In our world, it is a really big deal. This is the major best practice and best policy center,” Oxford Street Shelter Director Rob Parritt said Oct. 9 about receiving an  Innovation & Excellence Award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

In receiving the award, Portland joins programs in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles for initiatives to address and end homelessness.

Althhough the Oxford Street Shelter “Long Term Stayers” effort is the specific recipient, Parritt said the work to get individuals who have been homeless for 180 consecutive days or 180 days in a calendar year into stable housing is a group effort.

Parritt said the list of agencies involved includes Shalom House, Avesta, Preble Street, Community Housing of Maine, the Opportunity Alliance, Catholic Charities of Maine, Milestone Recovery, Frannie Peabody Center and the Maine Department of Health & Human Services.

The premise is simple: provide chronically homeless clients with a safe place to live, then get them the medical, mental health and substance use disorder services needed.

“These are folks who take up a huge amount of resources even as they take up a small portion of our communities,” Parritt said.

The challenge has been implementing housing first and what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calls Shelter Plus Care and the state calls Bridging Rental Assistance Program without new funding and in an area where affordable housing is scarce.

Housing first has been a stated city priority by Mayor Ethan Strimling and others, and this year’s opening of Huston Commons at 72 Bishop St. provided 30 new homes near Morrill’s Corner.

Although Huston Commons was the first such housing to open in Portland since 2010, the Long Term Stayers program has helped 125 people get housing since it was started two years ago.

The housing has been found without getting additional vouchers for clients, and through selective use of landlords in the greater Portland area, Parritt said.

“These are people we have known a long time and we know the clock is ticking. We feel a great sense of urgency to move people out,” he added.

Getting housing for long-term shelter stayers frees up resources to help those with more temporary needs, and Parritt said matching housing with services helps address the long-term hazards and conditions exacerbated by chronic homelessness.

Diabetes and cancer can be primary health challenges, and can be accompanied by mental health issues and substance use disorders, Parritt said. While addressing unmet needs, the services can also reduce the number of calls to emergency responders and trips to emergency rooms.

Parritt said he and CHOM Executive Director Cullen Ryan will attend the Alliance ceremony later this month in Washington, D.C. 

“I want to make it clear we are having amazing success, but it does not mean there is not a lot of work to do,” Parritt said. “One of those powerful things you can do is end someone’s homelessness.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Oxford Street Shelter Director Rob Parritt said Oct. 11 that a national award received recently is the work of multiple agencies in the city and state to provide housing.

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