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Even working multiple jobs to afford basics like food and shelter, all it takes is one medical emergency, one miscalculation, one unexpected repair to become homeless in Philadelphia. | Image: Zac Durant

In response to a statement in the May 31 issue of Philadelphia Weekly from newly elected City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez regarding Pathways to Housing for low-income families as well as those struggling with addiction, the Logan-based organization submitted the following to PW in efforts to point out what it believes were discrepancies from Quinones-Sanchez about the services it provides, at what cost and in the end who really benefits.

In a city with a 26 percent poverty rate, with nearly half of those individuals living in deep poverty, housing is going to be a constant issue. And the poverty rate should come as no surprise given the high cost of living and the low minimum wage here in the city:

. The minimum wage in Philadelphia is $7.25/hour; the minimum living wage for Philadelphia is $12.64/hour for a single person, and higher for a family.

. Working 40 hours per week at minimum wage gets you $1,160 before taxes; median monthly bills for housing and food are estimated at $1,606 (rent: $968, utilities: $213, food $425).

. Cell phone service, clothing, hygiene products, cleaning products, transportation, and other basic necessities are all extra items not included in the median monthly bill calculations, which means you’d need to work even more hours at a minimum wage job in order to afford them.

When you have to work multiple jobs just to afford the very basics like food and shelter, it’s very, very easy to become homeless. One medical emergency, one miscalculation, one unexpected repair, and you could lose your home and have to navigate living unsheltered.

Our low minimum wage and lack of affordable housing in Philadelphia are just two of the many factors that contribute to the 6,200 people experiencing homelessness on any given day in Philadelphia. The opioid crisis has certainly contributed to the number of people living unsheltered in the city, though growth has slowed from a 36 percent increase in 2017 to 13 percent in 2018 and just five percent in 2019.

For those experiencing homelessness, there’s a myriad of service providers to navigate in order to cover basic needs: emergency shelters, food pantries, employment services, transitional housing, job training programs, and more. Navigating those resources without a cell phone, without a manual or guide to follow, while carrying all of your worldly possessions with you at all times is incredibly difficult. Resolving the issues that led to [living] on the street often take a back seat to survival.

The Housing First model is a philosophical approach that begins by providing a permanent place to live. We don’t make our participants prove that they have earned a safe place to lay their head at night because we recognize the need to first get the basics out of the way.

Housing is a basic human right.

Housing First is not, and never should be, housing only. We have multidisciplinary teams connected to integrated health care, which allows us to support people and their individual needs. Pathways firmly believes in individualized recovery, whether that is from mental health conditions, substance use, or other issues. In order to support a person’s recovery, we need to get to know them and then they help us figure out what is important.

Maria Quinones-Sanchez recently stated that “the models we have are very expensive” when discussing sustainability in housing for those experiencing homelessness with substance use disorder.  With two teams supporting 150 people who are stably housed after experiencing homelessness with a substance use disorder, we would like to point out the following;

Yes, it does cost about $30,000 each year to house someone and provide wrap-around services, which works out to about $82 per night. But let’s look at the costs for alternatives to our Housing First program:

. A common outcome for people experiencing homelessness is jail, which averages $117 per night.

. Congregate housing with 24-hour staffing costs approximately $155 per night.

Inpatient drug and alcohol rehab is about $400 per night.

. Many people experiencing homelessness, especially those with substance use disorder, end up in the ER frequently – that cost averages $1,233.

. For those who end up in a psychiatric hospital rather than an emergency room, the cost jumps to an average of $1,574 per day.

None of the alternatives mentioned here include alternative costs related to those who live unsheltered: the cost for police who arrest or transport individuals experiencing homelessness, transit police or security officers who monitor public spaces, maintenance for public spaces and parks, street outreach teams, food pantries, drop-in centers, and other government-funded resources.

Housing First is one of the most cost-effective options for people experiencing homelessness. Not only that, but the model works: 85 percent of our participants remain housed. Essentially, when we work with people, their homelessness is ended.

Another point brought up by Maria Quinones-Sanchez was recovery and how to support people with substance use disorder. Only 20 percent of more than two million Americans with opioid use disorder receive treatment.  At Pathways to Housing PA, 65 percent of our participants with opioid use disorder are seeking some form of treatment after being housed for only six months.

 However, we agree with Councilperson Sanchez that we must provide alternatives, because having a choice is what works for marginalized people, and Housing First is not the only solution. Yes, we should be providing better support (and with that support, oversight) for recovery houses in Philadelphia. Yes, we need to offer family support so that people can remain with loved ones while early in their recovery. And we need safe consumption sites because people are dying at an unprecedented rate. 

Christine Simiriglia, President & CEO, Pathways to Housing

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