When looking back at 2018 from a programmatic standpoint at Tedford Housing, it is clear that the continued lack of affordable housing in the southern Midcoast region has resulted in increased length of stays at both our adult and family shelters. According to the 2018 Out of Reach study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “in no state can a person working full-time at the federal minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent.” In Maine, renters would have to make $18.73/hour to afford a typical 2 bedroom rental. Yet our minimum wage is $10 and the average renter’s wage is $11.44. (You can find a link to this study on Tedford’s Facebook page.)

In February of last year, Tedford Housing teamed up with Sweetser to start the Long Term Stayers (LTS) Initiative Southern Midcoast to help address this problem. I worked closely with Rita De Fio, housing program manager at Sweetser, to look at successful models being used to address the challenge of shelter guests with longer stays at our shelter.

The Statewide Homeless Council, which advises and makes recommendations on services for people experiencing homelessness in the state, first adopted the Long Term Stayers Initiative as a strategy for reducing homelessness in 2014. “Long Term Stayers” are defined as people staying over 180 cumulative days in shelters (or outdoors) within a 365 day period (not necessarily consecutive). More recently, the definition has been expanded to include people in shelters or unsheltered who have been homeless for the longest period of time.

Using a Housing First approach, the initiative focused housing resources and services on the group of people who have had the largest number of barriers to successful housing placements. Because this group are frequent users of shelters, they tend to occupy shelter beds for longer periods of time and also use a disproportionate amount of publically funded services like emergency rooms, ambulance services, detox facilities, etc. In a study for Community Housing of Maine, Adam F Cohen reported an average cost savings of $5,853 per person for long term stayers housed in supportive housing in Portland.

Inspired by this highly successful program in Portland, the goal of our local initiative is to identify persons who have been homeless the longest in the southern Midcoast Maine region and, through interagency collaboration, assist them in securing housing as soon as possible. Earlier in the year Tedford staff began visiting LTS meetings in Portland to observe the interagency approach to securing housing for persons with multiple barriers. Our initiative was activated in February of 2018, and by June 30th six households (3 individuals, 3 families) homeless for more than 180 days or more had been housed.

So far, Sweetser, PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, provided by Catholic Charities locally), Maine Department of Corrections and Maine Behavioral Healthcare have joined Tedford Housing to share knowledge and resources to secure housing for long term stayers who have the most barriers to overcome in achieving stable affordable housing.

As we approach the one year anniversary of this initiative, we are happy to report that we have housed a total of 9 LTS adults and 5 families for a total of 14 households. Although we began by tracking and focusing on single individuals, we soon added a family component. As Tedford is the only agency in the area that focuses on housing persons experiencing homelessness, we have naturally gravitated to following long term stayers in our two shelters. In 2019, we are making serious efforts to stay connected with people who have left our shelters, for any reason, and remain homeless. Case management is at the core of Tedford Housing’s programs and services and will remain so as we grow initiatives to address the changing needs of our community.

Our most recent big LTS “win” was staying connected to a woman who left our adult shelter with age-related vulnerabilities and health conditions and back into an unsafe and unsheltered living situation. Working with Midcoast Hospital personnel, we assisted in getting this client into a long-term care placement.

Our LTS efforts are ongoing. We currently have 4 adults that case managers are following – 3 are in the shelter and one is unsheltered. For the unsheltered individual, we are working on maintaining case management services towards a successful housing placement. We are also tracking one LTS family in our family shelter. They have not reached the 180 day mark but fall into the category of being in the shelter the longest.

We are committed to continuing the LTS initiative in 2019 and engaging area agencies and landlords to successfully house people with long histories of homelessness in our region.

Giff Jamison is the director of operations for Tedford Housing and recently appointed to the Sagadahoc County Board of Health. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.

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