Waco pursues housing-first model for less fortunate

By Jordan Corona
Staff Writer

The city is rethinking conventional methods of helping the chronically homeless.

Almost Home Waco is a housing-first program from the Department of Housing and Community Development that officially kicks-off with a public meeting at 9 a.m. today at the City’s Operations Building on Fourth Street.
Jennifer Caballero of the Department of Housing and Community Development said the idea is to provide permanent housing to some of the city’s most vulnerable.

“The idea is that you put chronically homeless people into a house before any mental health or substance abuse treatment,” Caballero said. “A lot of times a person would have to be completely healed before being put into transitional housing. Housing first switches that up a bit.”

Caballero leads the Community Management Information System, which maintains aggregate statistics about the city’s homeless population. A special survey called a Point in Time Count updates the system periodically to ensure accuracy and more ground level perspective from the data about poverty in Waco.

Social work graduate student Aaron Mize helped the department administer the survey in January. This year, the Point in Time Count helped prepare the department for the new program by indexing more personal levels of need with an extension to the survey.

“Every year, Waco does a Point in Time Count,” Mize said. “This year, we attached the vulnerability index.”

The index concerns elements of need that the information system doesn’t typically track — personal health issues, special needs, even addiction. Those individuals with particularly chronic levels of need were documented and given priority on a list for housing.

“The client isn’t living rent free,” Caballero said.

Almost Home Waco coordinates each individual with a caseworker to help transition into non-street living. The client agrees to pay 30 percent of his income to their landlord once he has a job.
Caballero said Almost Home Waco is working with preexisting resources and agencies partnered with the department.

Almost Home Waco was designed after a national model already in play in cities such as San Diego, Philadelphia and New York. The campaign called 100,000 Homes reports an 85 percent success rate with its practice.

“Housing-first is where everything is going,” Mize said. “It’s proven to work when it’s combined with case management. Some people just won’t find a lot of success without a home.”
The initiative represents the city in its final phase of the former mayor’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, which began in 2005.

“When you’re charged with leading the city, you represent everyone,” said Virginia Dupuy, former mayor of Waco.

Dupuy and the Housing and Community Development Department began intentionally working on solutions for the city’s homelessness issue in 2005. The 10-year plan targeted chronic homelessness from several perspectives and pooled community institutions to collaborate.

“To be honest, when I first heard ‘eliminate homelessness,’ I thought that was a tall order,” Dupuy said.

The Waco Department of Housing and Community Development hopes to have everyone in chronic need of housing according to this year’s Point in Time Count, assigned to permanent living by 2015.