Connecting Detroit's homeless with supportive services and housing

Each Monday, our Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley speaks with a Michigan resident about a project or program that is working to improve life in Michigan. The interviews are part of our year-long series, What’s Working.

Today, Christina sits down with Beverley Ebersold, the Senior Program Manager at the Michigan Office for the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Ms. Ebersold has also been involved with the 100,000 Homes Project, a national non-profit launched in the summer of 2010 that aims to find permanent housing for 100,000 homeless Americans by the summer of 2013. The Michigan chapter for 100,000 Homes is based in Detroit.

In order to locate those members of the homeless population that are most in need of permanent, stable housing, Ebersold says it’s important to seek out and interview those living on the streets.

"Individuals from around the community spend a week long interviewing people on the street using the vulnerability index to find out who’s most at risk of dying on the street."

The week of interviews done in Detroit surveyed a total of 211 people living without shelter, and found that the percentage of homeless people at risk of dying on the street was roughly ten percent higher than the national average of 42 percent.

Once the most vulnerable members of the homeless population are located, the effort shifts to finding permanent, supportive housing for them. Ebersold explains:

"There’s a partnership with numerous homeless service providers in the community that develop and operate permanent and supportive housing," she says, "Oftentimes, they will get a rental subsidy along with supportive services to help them maintain residential stability."

Still, the costs of housing a large number of homeless individuals can be daunting at first. Ebersold says that while they are currently short on funding, the long-term financial benefits of permanent, supportive housing have been demonstrated.

"On average, to fund an individual in a city shelter runs approximately 19,000 dollars a year. While if you put an individual in supportive housing, on average we can say it’s about 15,000 dollars a year."

And the savings don’t stop there.

"If you look at the recidivism rate among public, kind of crisis institutions that these individuals generally touch, those numbers, as far as dollar value and cost of services, are really significantly higher. Such as a psychiatric hospital bed on an annual basis may be 170,000 dollars a year.

So, if you invest in a housing subsidy with some services, it ends up reducing precious resources that we use with our emergency hospital systems, jails, etcetera."

Beyond helping homeless individuals and saving tax-payer dollars, Ebersold says there are other benefits of supportive housing.

"In Detroit we have over 19,000 individuals on any given night that are homeless. When this type of housing is developed in the community, it tends to increase property values around the community because the housing and the infrastructure that is being brought in is generally managed well, and it helps kind of shore up some of the other areas in the neighborhood."

Looking forward, Ebersold hopes communities will recognize the savings, both in lives and in dollars, which supportive housing can offer.

Describing the effects she hopes to see as a result of programs like 100,000 Homes, she says, "Hopefully our numbers of people who are oppressed and marginalized on the streets would be less. But I think that the state can reap a cost savings with some of their programs, as well as business entities. It kind of just can help evolve this circle, and, at the same time, build a community and help redevelop it, as well as housing people who are in desperate need of housing."

by Eliot Johnson - Michigan Radio Newsroom