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  • County receives $1.3 million grant to assist homeless

    Jun 30, 2016 | Read More News
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    The U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Justice (HUD/DOJ) will provide $1.3 million to fund the development of a Pay for Success/Permanent Supportive Housing program for homeless people in Pima County who frequently cycle through jail and crisis healthcare services like emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals. Many of these individuals also present with serious substance abuse and mental health disorders. The goal is to enable these individuals to find stable housing—a major obstacle for members of this target population due to poverty, jail time, and behavioral health issues.  

    Homeless folksThe mutually intensifying problems of homelessness, recidivism, and behavioral health are significant in Pima County. According to Pima County Adult Detention Center data, for example, 517 homeless individuals were booked into the jail more than once in 2014. Of these recidivists, 383 (74%) are either currently or historically enrolled with the Regional Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA). Of those currently receiving RBHA services, 132 are enrolled with a listed Mental Health category. 

    Pima County’s partner in its ambitious supportive housing initiative to serve individuals with patterns of chronic homelessness, jail incarceration, and high utilization of crisis healthcare is the Sorenson Impact Center. Headquartered in the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, the Center is an applied academic institution considered one of the preeminent national leaders in the emerging Pay for Success field. In November 2015, Pima County contracted with the Center to conduct a Pay for Success readiness assessment. This work paved the way for the Center and the County to join forces in pursuing and securing the HUD/DOJ “Pay for Success Supportive Housing Demonstration Grant” award. The Sorenson Impact Center/Pima County project is one of only seven projects selected nationwide, and the $1.3 million award represents the maximum level of funding allowed for a project.  

    Specifically, Pima County’s Department of Community Development and Neighborhood Conservation (CDNC) will work closely with the University of Utah’s Sorenson Impact Center in the design and roll-out of this project over the next four years. CDNC will help convene and select nonprofit service providers to increase the number of permanent supportive housing units and evidence-based programming for the initiative’s target population. This increase is critical since the 2015 readiness assessment conducted by the Center surfaced the fact that currently only 31 permanent supportive housing units are available countywide to non-veterans.  

    This “Pay for Success” project will be the first of its kind in Pima County— a public-private partnership designed to let a network of government agencies and nonprofit service providers test or expand innovative methods for achieving specific goals while paying only when positive outcomes are achieved. Private investors put up the seed money for community service providers to implement a project with the promise of repayment by the government only if the provider meets the desired results.

    “Private sector funding will be an important factor in launching this endeavor because of the continued recalcitrance of state leaders to finance even the most critical public services,” said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. “Pay for Success is an innovative approach to help the people most in need in our community. It brings to bear private sector expertise and investment to help solve long-term local problems.”

    Huckelberry has worked hard in recent years to promote Pay for Success policy innovations in Pima County. This work resulted in major events like the February 2014 “Brining Pay for Success to Pima County” conference, which brought national PFS leaders from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco together with over 80 representatives from community-based organizations, charities, and government agencies. In his conference keynote, Huckelberry noted that criminal justice services are the broadest and most expensive provided by Pima County, and therefore offer the greatest potential for PFS-model social investing. In particular, he argued for a PFS-model focus at the intersection of recidivism and mental health. Shortly thereafter, he secured $60,000 from the Kresge Foundation and Tucson Electronic Power/Unisource Energy Services as well as a Board of Supervisors investment of $50,000 to underwrite Pay for Success feasibility research, which ultimately paved the way for the $1.3 million HUD/DOJ grant award.   

    The HUD/DOJ grant award is also a reflection of Pima County’s growing national reputation as a public policy innovator at the intersection of criminal justice and behavioral health. The 2011 opening of the county’s Crisis Response Center has ensured, for example, that there is a place for law enforcement to take individuals in behavioral health crisis that is more suitable than the emergency room or the jail.  The creation of specially-trained law enforcement Mental Health Service Teams (MHST) and expansive crisis intervention training across all law enforcement agencies has resulted in a community-wide effort to deflect individuals with behavioral health conditions when it is appropriate. Additionally, Pima County has made a concerted effort to identify individuals with behavioral health conditions upon intake to the jail to provide better bridging of medications, and to improve continuity of care upon intake and upon release.  In fact, early efforts have provided proof of concept in technologically-driven information sharing between the jail, the correctional healthcare vendor, the Regional Behavioral Health Authority, the statewide health information exchange and Arizona’s Medicaid system, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

    “The Sorenson Impact Center is thrilled to be able to continue its work with Pima County to help serve individuals experiencing homelessness who are also cycling through the criminal justice system,” said Sorenson Impact Center Managing Director Jeremy Keele. “Pima County is a wonderful partner for the Center and provides an ideal setting to strengthen the Housing First Permanent Supportive Housing opportunities available through Pay for Success financing.”

    Just this past April, Pima County was awarded $1.5 million as part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety + Justice Challenge initiative. Pima County’s flagship Safety + Justice Challenge strategy is to leverage newly enhanced community behavioral health treatment options to provide post-booking treatment alternatives to jail. This will be accomplished by adding substance abuse and mental health screening before initial appearance--which will give the judge safe options for release--and increasing Pretrial Services capacity to supervise individuals with significant behavioral health needs. The provision of permanent supportive housing for this population released to the supervision of the new Pretrial Services specialty caseload is critical to their treatment success as well as their success in appearing for court hearings and avoiding re-arrest and incarceration. It is a major victory for Pima County to secure such complementary grant awards in the same grant funding cycle.   

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