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San Diego's homeless outreach, <a href="http://homeagainsd.org/our-progress/project-25">Project 25</a>, has given itself good grades just over a year after the initiative was launched

November 16, 2011 1:10 p.m.

Guests: Brian Maienschien, Commissioner, Project 25

Stacy Collinsworth, Project 25 participant

Related Story: Chronically Homeless Get Help Through Project 25

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego's homeless outreach, project 25, has prepared a report card for itself less than a year after the initiative was launched. And so far, the project is rating high marks. The goal of the program is to identify those chronically homeless people most in need of emergency services and get them into permanent housing. Joining me to talk about the program are my guests, project 25 director Brian Maienschien. Welcome back.

MAIENSCHIEN: It's great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And participant Stacy Collingsworth. Good afternoon, thanks for coming in

COLLINGSWORTH: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Brian, this project was modeled after the housing first programs for the homeless that have been successful in other parts of the country. Can you tell us the basic idea behind housing first?

MAIENSCHIEN: The idea is if the housing is there and the services are there, homeless individuals will come off the streets. And they'll no longer be homeless, and they'll start the steps necessary to really improve and remake their lives

CAVANAUGH: Just to be clear, that's kind of a turnaround from the idea that somebody has to go into rehabilitation and sort of, like, get a job first, and then try to get a first month's rent together, and so forth and so on. What this program does is take people who are in -- badly in need of a place to live because they're using a lot of emergency services, and then putting them into permanent housing; is that right?

MAIENSCHIEN: And that's right. What we found were the barriers were so huge for somebody coming off the street for whatever reasons. Employment training needs, mental health issue needs, physical health. All those factors came together to make it exceedingly difficult for somebody who is on the streets to get off the streets. What we found was by having the housing and services in place, our success rate really went through the roof.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I've been using the term chronically homeless. Who is defined as chronically homeless.

MAIENSCHIEN: That's somebody who's been homeless for longer than a year or four times over the previous three-year, and has some sort of disability. And typically, that's some sort of mental illness. Basically what it means is somebody who's been homeless for an extended period of time. We find with the chronic homeless population, they are the most difficult segment of the homeless population because, again, typically because of the mental illness or the other disability. And then once you've been homeless for a long time, those hurdles that you mentioned earlier just become bigger and bigger. This is a percentage of the population. It's not the biggest part of the population but it's the most costly part of the population

CAVANAUGH: I think that answers the question I was just about to ask you. Sadly we hear a lot approximate these days about homelessness. We've heard about people who have fallen into homelessness, homeless families, working poor who are homeless. Why the target on chronic homelessness?

MAIENSCHIEN: I wanted to focus on that because even though they're a smaller percentage of the overall homeless population, they use a disproportionate of the services and funding. By identifying the most expensive amongst those, we're showing what enormous cost savings can happen. Even if you don't think there's any moral or ethical issues involved in homelessness, the economic arguments are equally sometimes in some cases even more compelling to do something about homelessness.

CAVANAUGH: Now, as I said you're using today to give a report card on the program. Tell us, so far, what is project 25 doing?

MAIENSCHIEN: It's shown a number of really great successes. One is we found on average the participants we were able to get off the street cost taxpayers about $200,000 per year. We have housing and services in about 30 to $40,000, and they're no longer homeless. A huge savings there. Secondly in terms of service, 911 calls, paramedic trips, interactions with police. These instances they're sometimes down, 90%. So if you look for the rest of the population, their 911 response time is going to be a lot bit quicker because 911 is not having to respond to the same people over and over. Paramedic rides, ER trips, all of those things come together. For the larger community, there is on the one hand these enormous savings in dollars; secondly, there's the improvement to the services in the community

CAVANAUGH: I want to reintroduce Stacy Collingsworth, he's a participant in the project 25 program. Thanks for coming in today and agreeing to tell us your story, Stacy.

COLLINGSWORTH: You're welcome

CAVANAUGH: How long hub homeless before you got into the Project 25 program?

COLLINGSWORTH: Off and on probably for the last 17, 18 years I've been homeless, running amok.

CAVANAUGH: So you -- you've had an awful lot of experience on the streets and so forth. Did you find that you -- if you got sick, where did you go?

COLLINGSWORTH: The hospital.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. The emergency room

COLLINGSWORTH: Right.

CAVANAUGH: And so how many times a year would you say you did that?

COLLINGSWORTH: I couldn't even count that many times. It's been -- they know me by name there, so --

CAVANAUGH: And you were telling us a story. Some police know you by name too, right?

COLLINGSWORTH: Oh, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Where you in jail a lot during that time?

COLLINGSWORTH: Well, I'm either in the hospital or in jail, it seems like.

CAVANAUGH: So what was it like when the people from project 25 came to you and told you about this project? Did it sound like it was real?

COLLINGSWORTH: No, it didn't. Actually, I was in shock. I thought it was maybe a trick of some sort. Because who wants to help me out?

CAVANAUGH: Right. When did you start getting convinced?

COLLINGSWORTH: Well, by talking to them. They're very supportive. You can only tell by talking to a person whether they're sincere about something or not. And it seemed pretty genuine so I gave it a shot. And so far it's been a blessing.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Brian, people who have been homeless for a while like Stacy don't usually trust people bearing gifts, right?

MAIENSCHIEN: Right.

CAVANAUGH: It doesn't happen a lot. So was it difficult convincing some people to come on board with this program?

MAIENSCHIEN: Here's one of the interesting things we've learned. A lot of people said oh, you'll never be able to get these people off the streets. Somebody who's been homeless for 17 years, they don't want to come in. And it's been the opposite. We have already 27 people in housing. We're going to get up to 35 in the next couple months. And that's in a very short period of time. We have had people say oh, it'll be over a year before you get people in housing. And that just hasn't been the case. I think that's a good -- something that people not just here in San Diego but throughout the nation can learn. When you have the opportunity, people will take advantage of it.

CAVANAUGH: I think two of our KPBS reporters, Kyla Calvert and Joanne Faryon went out when you were conducting interviews with people on the street to see if they were going to be on this final list for the permanent housing. What did you look for in participants for this project?

MAIENSCHIEN: We didn't cherry pick. We looked at the people who were the most expensive and wept after them. It really was just an economic decision. And if they were costly, we went out and looked for them and got them.

CAVANAUGH: Where is this housing?

MAIENSCHIEN: The housing is scattered. It's not just in one site. It's within the City of San Diego. But they're in sites throughout the city.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And we have heard from some reporters for quite some time that a lot of people who don't -- who are homeless want to live that way. That's been sort of an accepted wisdom in certain quarters for quite some time. Did you find that to be true?

MAIENSCHIEN: That hadn't been the case. I think that's really been a myth, and I think it's been exposed. When you see all the individuals who, when they have the opportunity, Stacy is a great example. If somebody is homeless for 17 years, is given the opportunity, they embrace it. And they straighten their lives out. It's twofold. One, we're saving lives, improving their lives, and secondly, we're saving such an enormous amount of money territory taxpayers. All we see today are declining government budgets am all the cuts that are going to be made. At a time of that, this money that can be saved can go to so much other much more worthy and socially beneficial causes than just essentially pouring money down a black hole.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder if you would talk to us about how this project is different from a bed in a winter shelter.

COLLINGSWORTH: Well, aye experienced a lot of support, and I'm learning a lot of tools to be successful. Even if it's not to be a millingionaire or what have you, just to be joyful and come home and take a shower, for instance, and not eat out of a trash can is just remarkable to me. I honestly believe if it wasn't for project 25, you wouldn't be speaking to me. I would probably be sitting in a jail cell.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what restrictions though, does this project put on you? Do you have rules that you have to live by?

COLLINGSWORTH: No, not really. Not that I'm aware of. They want to help us do the right thing. They're teaching me how to live. To be a person. Up until this point, I couldn'ta told you how to do that.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Brian. Are there rules involved for people who are part of this project?

MAIENSCHIEN: We do have case managers that make sure that all the laws from a federal, state, and local level are being complied with. So yes, that part is this. Then in addition, I think like Stacy said, they're being taught life skills.

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

MAIENSCHIEN: And how to cope and some of the things that may be have been in the past have been lacking

CAVANAUGH: But even if a person, not Stacy, even if a person were still in addiction, they would still be a candidate for this project?

MAIENSCHIEN: As long as they're -- correct. That is correct. As long as they're complying with all state and federal laws. But, for example, that part of their plan would be that they would have a substance abuse portion to their overall treatment plan

CAVANAUGH: Now, you said the 27 people who are involved in project 25, you've already exceeded your expectations there, are in permanent housing. And you're recruiting 35 more?

MAIENSCHIEN: We actually have 35 in the program. So we have eight that have not completed the housing portion of it yet. But we're close. So pretty soon, probably the next time I come in here and you and I visit, we'll be able to talk about 35 being completely in housing and service.

CAVANAUGH: Looking at your information, there are a whole list of participating organizations. This is primarily a combination of united way and the county of San Diego, if I'm correct. How do you keep all of those members on board funding this project?

MAIENSCHIEN: It's definitely a challenge. Our main partners are the united way, and the county of San Diego, the City of San Diego housing commission. But we have 22 basically -- I think we're at 22 right now, partner agencies that we work with. And I think that's been great is once we were able to get everybody together, we've really seen the value in this, and the success in this, and they're proud to be involved with something of this nature.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder if you would tell us what your hopes are now that you got a place to live and you're learning these things, these skills to live life.

COLLINGSWORTH: Well, my main goal is to remain sober. That's the NO. 1. But I'm going to be learning some job skills, hopefully getting a job pretty soon and paying my own way, and being a respectable normal part of society. That's not asking for much.

CAVANAUGH: No, but it's pretty much everything, huh?

COLLINGSWORTH: Yeah. It's important.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both for speaking with me. I've been speaking with Project 25 participant Stacy collingsworth, and Project 25 director Brian Maienschien. Thank you both.

MAIENSCHIEN: Thank you Maureen

COLLINGSWORTH: Thank you.