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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The logic behind this shift in strategy is that individuals who are homeless need to have their basic human needs—shelter, food, security—met before they can successfully begin to address other problems in their lives such as substance use and mental health treatment adherence. As their mental health and substance use improves, the model assumes that program participants (clients) will develop higher levels of independence, relying less and less on the supportive services offered to them. The theory that the model leads to greater independence of program participants has been supported by several studies.
However, research we are conducting in Chicago has demonstrated that there are at least three significant policy barriers, created by government regulations themselves, that can have significant negative effects on the development of greater independence among program participants. The first barrier to fostering independence is a funding mechanism offered by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) known as Shelter Plus Care (S+C), which requires participants to engage in supportive services (for example, case management, psychiatric care, psychotherapy, or employment services) to receive funds for housing. While not all agencies or agency programs receive funding from S+C, those that do are required to match funding for rental assistance with equal funding for supportive services, which incentivizes programs to pressure participants to engage in community services whether or not they want or are in need of them.
A second barrier exists when an agency uses Medicaid funding to support internal services for participants. Agencies are able to use this funding option when they house Medicaid eligible participants and they have staff that provide Medicaid reimbursable services (physicians, licensed social workers, and licensed therapists). These agencies fall into a trap of having to maintain participant dependence on services if the agency is to protect its funding for staffing and services. When using the Medicaid strategy, the agency does not receive money for staffing unless participants are utilizing billable services. Therefore, participant success and increased independence (less need for services) means the loss of funding.
While well-meaning policies, these regulations are creating all-or-nothing funding situations where participants cannot be gradually moved to full housing and service independence. While the spirit is toward creating housing and providing needed counseling services, the regulations have created a dependence perpetuating situation for participants and agencies alike. Both of these funding mechanisms place agencies in situations where they have to decide between building participant independence and maintaining current levels of funding. This is problematic if participant independence means less reliance on supportive services.
The third barrier is the requirement that participants be homeless at the time of intake if they are to be eligible for HUD housing services. This is particularly problematic when agencies have tailored programs that have specialized services to address the needs of participants with specified levels of functioning. For instance, an agency might have a program designed for participants with lower levels of functioning, where they are not allowed unsupervised access to kitchen equipment because of the dangers that access to a stove might impose for themselves and/or others (threat of fire). The same agency (or another agency) may have another program that is targeted for higher functioning participants whose unsupervised access to kitchen equipment is not as risky. However, when a participant is ready to move to the higher functioning program, they would not be eligible for entry because of HUD’s requirement that they be homeless to qualify for funding. This can trap the participant in the first programming, effectively blocking his or her progress toward greater self-sufficiency.
Curiously, one solution to this third barrier is to assure that participants who have improved in functioning are homeless at the time more appropriate placements become available. This might mean moving the participant from their current program to a homeless shelter while waiting for a unit to become available in a program for higher functioning participants.
This rather convoluted bureaucratic “solution,” is not always in the best interest of the individual receiving treatment. A government policy that encourages moving at-risk individuals to homeless shelters can derail an individual’s path to independence. The stigma and stress associated with moving to a shelter can negatively affect individuals who have demonstrated improvements, threatening this progress. Providing stable housing opportunities and elimination of the homeless shelter detour could go a long way to stabilizing the lives of many formerly homeless individuals and creating independent, contributing citizens in many of our nation’s communities.
University-Community Research Coordinator
Friday, April 23, 2010
Investment in education—particularly investment in teachers--should be as popular an economic stimulus strategy as construction investment. This investment also employs workers who provide financial stability to their families and broader communities. But it provides even more; it is a long-term investment in the productive and creative capacity of our nation. Whether it is providing quality pre-school education for all children, maintaining high quality public schools, insuring that we have affordable higher education, or reacting quickly to provide retraining for adult workers, education is essential for our nation’s long-term health.
Education is a long-term investment. Unlike pouring concrete to make a new six-lane highway, education is not something poured into a student’s head to be used immediately. It takes time.
Unfortunately, the mind-set of elected officials is how to show results before the next election cycle. Something that takes 18 or more years to show productive results is a very unattractive option to many politicians.
Projections are that local and state budget crises will result in the lay off of 17,000 public school teachers in Illinois, 22,000 in California, and similar numbers in other states. Where schools have not been shut down, class sizes will increase to 45 or more students in some cases—not a setting where effective elementary or high school education can take place.
We are producing an educational crisis deeper than that which jolted this country in the late 1950s, when we were shocked by the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik and this country’s lag in science and math education. We need to stop the bleed in education funding and dramatically enhance educational funding as we did 50 years ago.
In recent months we have been pumping money into Wall Street firms, banks, automobile companies, where the “Best and the Brightest” leaders led us to a colossal crisis. Perhaps it has been more greed than lack of intelligence that has led us into this crisis, but it is time to diversify our investment and pay attention to millions of children in our schools.
One politician who has the benefit of a longer-term time line agrees. Last week at Erie Neighborhood House’s annual fund raising dinner, Mayor Richard M. Daley – the twenty-year plus executive of the third largest city in the U.S.—made an emotional case for substantial additional investment into public education as the nation’s number one priority. Through much of CURL’s work with community partners it has been clear that education is central to addressing equal opportunity, community development, reduced crime, and stable employment. Once built, buildings do not create new opportunities, once educated, youth and young adults continue contributing to a healthy and creative society.
Director and Professor of Sociology
Friday, March 26, 2010
In its 15th year, the Loyola University Chicago Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) is an innovative, non-traditional, interdisciplinary research center that engages community partners in all aspects of our research from conceptualization of research projects to research design, data gathering, report writing, dissemination.
CURL seeks to promote equality and to improve people's lives in communities throughout the Chicago metropolitan region. We pursue this goal by building and supporting collaborative research and education efforts. These partnerships connect Loyola faculty and students with community and nonprofit organizations, civic groups, and government agencies. Such collaborations link the skills and wisdom present within every community with the specialized knowledge and academic discipline of a vital urban university. Working together, community needs are addressed and the academic experience is enriched.
At any one time more than 50 faculty, community partners, undergraduate students, graduate students, and CURL staff are engaged in research teams related to more than 15 collaborative university-community research projects. We are always developing new projects as a result of our ongoing partnerships with a variety of organizations throughout the city and suburbs. More information on CURL and its past and present projects is available at our main web site: www.luc.edu/curl.
The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for CURL research team members and affiliated Loyola faculty to share emerging research outcomes with broader audiences, comment on the implications of past or present CURL research on developing policy debates, and invite comments on emerging community-based research ideas. We hope this will be an active and useful forum that complements our archive of research reports, our e-journal, Gateways, our Friday Morning Seminars, and other activities aimed at linking “university knowledge” with “community knowledge.”
Professor of Sociology and