Life on the Inside

It may be time to start treating mentally ill street people with homes of their own

| January 13, 2005

So how does a give-away program like Pathways to Housing earn accolades from the White House? According to homelessness czar Philip Mangano, by being research-driven, cost-conscious, and accountable. By providing up-front rent and start-up costs for the homeless, the program keeps people out of the hospitals, courts, and prisons that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Pathways' unique funding structure also has bipartisan appeal. The program does depend in part on government and foundation grants, but it relies largely on a savvy staff that navigates the bureaucracies that are impenetrable from many homeless people, and finds them the benefits to which they are already entitled. For one man named Andre, that amounted to some $1500 a month in veterans' benefits, disability benefits, Section 8 rent assistance, food stamps, and the list goes on.

The Pathways program is novel in other ways, as well -- most notably in its approach to mental illness. The common assumption is that mental illness leads to homelessness. Pathways turns that formula on its head, operating from the assumption that not having a place to live exacerbates what could be a moderate, treatable form of mental illness. The program also provides services such as psychiatric and job counseling.

Given 400,000 homeless people living in New York alone, Pathways' scope -- it serves about 500 clients in the city New York -- might seem inconsequential. Douglas McGray argues in Mother Jones, though, that those are impressive figures for such a radical, young program. Pathways hopes to win more fans by expanding to Washington, D.C.
-- Hannah Lobel

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