Pathways to Housing PA was founded to positively transform the lives of people experiencing mental health challenges and chronic homelessness by supporting self-directed recovery and community inclusion. As an alternative to a system of emergency shelter and transitional housing progressions, our model is simple: provide housing first, and then combine that housing with supportive treatment services in the areas of mental and physical health, substance abuse, education, and employment.
Housing is provided in apartments scattered throughout the city of Philadelphia. This scattered site model fosters a sense of home and self-determination, and it helps speed the reintegration of our clients into their community. Our goal is for participants to become part of the community, and not just live in the community.
The Pathways Housing First Model has been remarkably successful in addressing chronic homelessness. Dr. Sam Tsemberis founded the model in New York in 1992 to test his revolutionary belief that those with severe psychiatric and addiction challenges living on the street could go directly into housing. Time and time again, Pathways succeeded in housing the people who had failed in other programs. Since its beginning in Philadelphia in 2008, Pathways to Housing PA has grown from its initial goal of housing the most resistant 125 people from the City's chronic street homeless population to housing more than 400 of these folks. Not only are they housed, but they are reclaiming their lives, breaking their sometimes decades long cycle of homelessness.
While the Housing First Model is very simple, our housing program is very complex and requires dedicated staff to coordinate all aspects (outreach, housing, healthcare, treatment, and case management) of the program. To be eligible for our Housing First Program, people must be chronically homeless and suffer from severe psychiatric disabilities and/or substance use disorders. Therefore, building a trusting relationship with these individuals living on the street, which may take many months, is the very first step of the program. Once a relationship is established and the person agrees to let us work with them, they choose an apartment, it is furnished through our Furniture Bank, and then we celebrate as they move in.
Housing First means there are no conditions that have to be met before the person moves in. A participant does not need to agree to psychiatric treatment or be clean and sober. The new tenant needs to abide by the same laws and rules that we all live by, they need to pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities (whatever the income - 30% of 0 is 0), and they need to agree to let us visit them in their home at least twice per month. Some people require much more service time and we have the flexibility to provide the level of care needed for each individual.
Pathways' staff work in multi-disciplinary teams to help each individual that comes to us to move out of homelessess, to reconnect with family and friends, to manage their finances, and to re-learn tasks like grocery shopping, cooking for themselves, doing laundry, or simply riding the bus. The staff spend up to 80% of their time in the community helping our program participants to reclaim their place in our neighborhoods as friends, parents, partners, church members, and family members.
At this point, even though the program participant is housed in their own apartment, stabilization in their new home can be a very difficult process. Many obstacles often impede a person's recovery and housing maintenance: psychosis, depression, loneliness, acute and chronic health problems, dysfunctional families and social relationships, hospitalization, incarcerations, failure to reduce drug use and its related harmful behaviors, poor medication adherence, and/or the inability to manage finances. Fortunately, our treatment teams have the robust competencies and skills required to meet the multiple treatment, rehabilitation, and support needs of the people we serve.
Pathways to Housing PA maintains an 85% housing retention rate even amongst those individuals not considered housing ready by other programs. Despite what you may think, it costs us less to house a person than it does to let them continue to be homeless. If you add up all of the costs involved with a person living unsheltered (prison, ambulance services, police interventions, emergency department visits, medical and psychiatric hospitalizations, soup kitchens, shelter nights) it averages out to be much more than the cost of subsidizing rent and providing appropriate services. Couple that with the fact that we rent vacant market rate apartments across Philadelphia, helping to retain our City's tax base, and we've got a win/win! Our services are good for the person who is now housed, and good for our community as a whole.
We want participants to do well, to meet their goals, and to live happily and healthfully in their new homes. To that end, our staff is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to help each participant make it. Our services are delivered with grace and compassion as we help our participants learn the skills they need to succeed. There isn't magic at Pathways. We have no secret recipe. We have kindness, and smiles, and the offer of a cup of tea on a cold day. We have an ear to listen and a hand to hold. Isn't that about all any of us really need or want?