Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Prioritize Development of Housing for Region's Most Vulnerable; Helping the Homeless; Many People Who Would Benefit from Supported Housing Stay Chronically Homeless

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Prioritize Development of Housing for Region's Most Vulnerable; Helping the Homeless; Many People Who Would Benefit from Supported Housing Stay Chronically Homeless

Article excerpt

The conversation around the future of the New Life Evangelistic Center, an emergency shelter for people who are homeless, provides us with a compelling opportunity to take a hard look at how we as a region have approached housing for vulnerable people. Advocates for people living with serious mental illness are particularly interested in this topic because a disproportionate percentage of people who are chronically homeless also have a serious mental illness; estimates range from 25 percent to 50 percent. The city and county 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness estimates that 38 percent of people experiencing homelessness also suffer from mental illness.

Fifty years after deinstitutionalization and downsizing of the state psychiatric hospitals, we know some things for certain:

* The majority of people with serious mental illness can live in independent housing, if it is affordable and the necessary and appropriate public health and case management services are available;

* Providing safe and decent housing for people with mental illness is an effective tool in reducing health care costs, including emergency room care, hospitalizations and long-term medical services;

* A minority of people with serious mental illness need affordable housing that includes individualized community-based supports in order to successfully maintain housing. We call this permanent supported housing.

We also know, sadly, that as a community we have not prioritized the development of this specialized supported housing for our most vulnerable citizens. The result: At great public and individual cost, many people who would benefit from supported housing stay chronically homeless, go through cycles of evictions, frequent our emergency rooms and require otherwise preventable extended hospital stays and health care interventions.

In 2012, the city of St. Louis Mental Health Board contracted with the Corporation for Supported Housing, a national leader in supported housing and other solutions to homelessness, to assess the city's need for permanent supported housing for those with mental illness. CSH found that the city needs 1,227 more affordable supported housing units to meet unmet needs. …

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