Tom and the Principle of Housing First
Housing is a human right. People are able to do better, to function to their potential, when they have a safe, decent place to live. A simple concept, it’s actually a principle called Housing First. It’s at the core of the work we do at the Haven.
“Everyone has a right to housing,” explains Renee Weeks, MA, LCMHC, LADC , director of shelter and clinical services. “That’s the philosophy we believe in.” Until the last decade, the prevailing practice was making those who were homeless “prove” they were ready for housing by being in treatment for their physical or mental health or graduating from a substance use disorder program. Research now shows that treatment is more likely—and more effective—when guests are housed.
“There’s so much stress and anxiety that comes from being homeless that guests often act out while in temporary shelter,” Renee observes. “They’re like different people when they become housed. They feel safe, they feel stable. It’s a sense of relief that they can now focus on their health or their substance use.”
Take Tom, for example. A former Haven guest, Tom is disabled and manages multiple significant health issues. Homeless for two years, he had been living week-to-week in motels, which is not only expensive but exhausting. The struggle wore Tom down, and his health suffered.
Working with a Haven service coordinator, Tom applied for a coveted housing voucher. After month on the waiting list, he moved into Parkhurst on Tracy Street in West Lebanon. The 18-unit complex is financed and managed by Twin Pines Housing; the Haven provides a service coordinator who supports tenants in meeting their independent living goals, everything from navigating the maze of health care to troubleshooting disability benefits.
When Tom moved into his unit in November 2019, he called his service coordinator to express gratitude for the Haven’s help. Asked how his apartment was he gushed, “Oh, it’s absolutely wonderful! It’s like the Taj Mahal!” Tom reiterated his thanks to the Haven and Twin Pines for his new home along with the additional support he received from SEVCA, Meals on Wheels, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
Tom’s life and health are now on an upward trajectory. Another Housing First success story.