Homeless Apartment Hunting

| 4/4/2008 3:38:30 PM

Shelters for the homeless, lacking sufficient space and funding, are starting to look like overcrowded prisons. As a result, administrators now screen applicants in the interest of efficiency, and turn away those who aren’t sober, won’t take their meds, or have histories of violent behavior. This literally leaves the most vulnerable out in the cold, where they’ll end up arrested, institutionalized, or worse.

Enter Pathways to Housing, a nonprofit in New York City that finds rentals for people with a psychiatric disability. According to Commonweal (subscription required), Pathways currently provides furnished apartments to more than 500 high-risk residents and has been so effective that there are 40 more similar programs being developed around the country. The key element is that clients get to choose their own apartment, giving them a sense of ownership, hope, and much-needed stability. Buying fair-market real estate is still cheaper than building new facilities and, instead of hiring on-site staff, Pathways also saves money by providing 24-hour access to off-site psychiatric, medical, and legal resources. Given that a bed at a New York State psychiatric ward costs $175,000 a year, spending just $22,500 per person at Pathways isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s also a wise investment.

Sarah Pumroy

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