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  • Criminal justice advocate keeps Housing First pilot project moving forward

    Sep 27, 2019 | Read More News
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    File: Rachel BeatyThe first few steps of a journey often prove the most difficult; especially when it leads down twisting paths to parts unknown. Having a guide can make finding the way much easier. Currently, almost three dozen formerly homeless individuals have started down a new track as part of Pima County's "Housing First" pilot project. 

    Launched this past May, the two-year experiment seeks to test whether providing housing improves the physical, mental and social well-being of clients while also reducing criminal justice and healthcare system costs and strain by providing them with a place to stay. It is a collaboration between the County's Criminal Justice Reform Unit and Old Pueblo Community Services (OPCS), with the former funding the effort and the latter overseeing day-to-day operations and medical and mental health services.

    "Giving these folks a place to stay provides them with privacy and dignity for the first time in a long while," Pima County Director of Justice Reform Initiatives Terrance Cheung said. "It also provides them with access to health and social services to help them achieve greater independence and self-sufficiency."

    To date, 33 people have qualified for Housing First, having been identified as homeless, diagnosed with substance use or a mental health issue and been booked into the Pima County Adult Detention Center at least twice in the previous 12 months. Roughly 80 percent of program clients come through referrals from Adult Probation, Public Defense Services and Pretrial Services.

    "One of the big problems with being homeless is keeping track of legal issues that could put you in jail," Program Manager Matt Pate said. "When you're looking for a safe place to sleep or your next meal or just to get out of the elements, showing up for a hearing often isn't a high priority."

    A major key to the success so far has been the presence of Old Pueblo Community Services' Criminal Justice Advocate Rachel Beaty.

    Beaty helps program participants navigate the justice system, keeping them on course for court dates, parole hearings and appointments with attorneys.

    "I provide a buffer between people and their probation officers. I try to help build good relationships between them so my people stay in good standing and avoid incarceration," Beaty said. "I do a lot with people who get re-incarcerated because they violated their probation, helping them get out. And I also remind people about court dates, taking them to court when I can, coordinating with Pretrial Services if a case hasn't gone to court yet." 

    File: Anyssa MartinezBeaty works in coordination with an outreach specialist who assists clients with finding more long-term housing plus social services, job and life-skills training and educational opportunities. Other OPCS staff members trained in case management and recovery counseling work on-site.

    "One of the big things is people don't know when their probation ends or what their stipulations are. Rachel provides hope to Housing First clients," Pate said. "One of the things that causes people to remain stuck is they have all of these obligations and entanglements and they don't know how to get out of their situation and Rachel's there to help them find their way."

    Beaty sees her role more than just being positive but also being a voice of reason for clients and helping them stay focused on their goal of staying out of the criminal justice system.

    "There's so much fear. For example, I have two people who missed drug court and they're just scared because that means a warrant will be issued. Or maybe they failed a drug test, and they're afraid to see their probation officer because they don't want to be locked up again," Beaty said. "I tell them 'Okay I'm with you. I promise you won't get re-incarcerated. Let's think what we can do together to address this with the PO, so that you stay free.' I help them get to the point where they can say 'You're right, I got off the path, let me re-direct and get back on course."

    The numbers speak to the success of Housing First. Of the 33 people enrolled in Housing First, only three have dropped out of the program. Meanwhile, four clients have moved out of the complex operated by OPCS and into new apartments of their own. 14 more soon will follow after receiving vouchers through the City of Tucson. 

    “Once they get that voucher from the City they have 60 days to find a place,” Pate said. “We’ve set the goal of finding them a place within 21 days. It’s cheaper for the County and it gives us more time for to find a back-up if the initial placement doesn’t work out.”

    File: Housing First apartmentsEach person placed in a new apartment receives furniture and a “move-in kit” – a stock of household items to help them settle in, everything from an alarm clock and kitchen utensils to toiletries and cleaning supplies.

    No Housing First clients have been denied a voucher.

    “When didn’t want them to be in a place and not have their own stuff,” Pate said. “We don’t want to leave people with just a room and four empty walls. We want them to be comfortable. To feel at home.”

    Pate predicts the project will have found long-term housing for 38 clients by the time it passes its six month milestone in November. The goal for Housing First is to help 150 individuals. The program’s threshold for success is 85 percent of clients finding and remaining in long-term housing.

    “We’re not really interested in how many people we can house, it’s whether that housing is stable," Pate said. "If we house 150 people, but 100 of them go back to homelessness, did we really do what we set out to do? The goal is housing that helps them plug back into society.”

    Top photo: Old Pueblo Community Services Criminal Justice Advocate Rachel Beaty

    Middle photo: Housing First resident Anyssa Martinez

    Bottom photo: Apartment exteriors at Old Pueblo Community Services' Housing First complex