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Maureen’s Haven finds success in Housing First model

Since March, six Maureen’s Haven Homeless Outreach residents have been placed in permanent housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing First model.

Designed to combat homelessness by offering permanent housing options “without preconditions and barriers to entry,” the new model has allowed Maureen’s Haven to house twice as many people in one third the amount of time.

Maryann Gensler, executive director at Maureen’s Haven, said that in the past, permanent housing solutions were found for only about three or four residents a year. That, she explained, was because of the numerous criteria they’d have to meet, including being sober and off drugs, having been homeless for a year or more and being mentally or physically ill.

“The point is, they don’t have to be sober and they don’t have to be off drugs,” Ms. Gensler said of the Housing First model. “Because the idea behind it is, house them first then deal with their issues … Through seeing this model, it’s something that’s successful. I see it working.”

Ms. Gensler explained that the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless creates a list of eligible people to be housed using the Homeless Management Information System, a class of database applications used to confidentially compile data on homeless populations. From there different providers, such as Options for Community Living in Smithtown, work to place them in suitable homes or apartments as openings become available.

Yolanda Robano-Gross, executive director of Options for Community Living, said the Housing First model has changed some of the regulations and parameters for who comes into the housing program, but the overall goal remains the same.

She added that different levels of housing are available based on mental and physical needs, so that everyone has the level of support they require as they transition from homelessness to having places of their own.

“It gives them the opportunity to increase their level of independence,” Ms. Robano-Gross said. “Housing is health care. If you don’t have a roof over your head and a safe place to lay your head at night, other things won’t fall into place.”

Although the Housing First model is new for Maureen’s Haven, Ms. Gensler said she’s already seen how finding a home has affected some of those who frequented the outreach center.

Without giving names, she spoke of a couple who were both homeless and recently housed together. When Ms. Gensler called them recently asking if they could attend an upcoming fundraiser, the woman responded that they would come, but could only arrive after her partner completed his treatment program that day.

“It’s working,” Ms. Gensler said. “This guy is in a program now. He wants to be sober. I’m like, ‘Wow, it really does work.’ ”

Photo caption: Maureen’s Haven executive director Maryann Gensler helps Brian, a client, fill out housing applications. The homeless-outreach center recently started using the Housing First model, which has allowed them to double the number of people it places in permanent housing. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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