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A Local Champion is Key to Changing Program

A persuasive leader can be the force for change in behavioral health programs. Sam Tsemberis, founder of the Pathways model Housing First, provides one such example and offers his view on the key elements required to successfully launch a program.

A local champion is the person who initiates the process of change in a community or an agency. He or she engages other key stakeholders, identifies sources of funding, coordinates grant applications, and generally oversees the implementation of a Pathways to Housing First (PHF) program. This is the person who reaches out and engages the technical assistance needed to begin the program, the person who works closely and collaboratively with all parties to ensure a smooth and efficient implementation.

Excerpted Material
Housing First

Housing First:
The Pathways Model to End Homelessness for People with Mental Illness and Addiction

Manual and DVD

Author: Sam Tsemberis, Ph.D.
Item: 4739
Publisher: Hazelden
Published Year: 2010

Online Price: $265.00 Each

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Implementing Housing First to End Homelessness

Throughout PHF's history, we have had the honor to work with many local champions in a variety of settings and jurisdictions. Patty White is one such remarkable person, and her story highlights some of the challenges others may encounter when they seek to implement a PHF program.

As a director of shelter services in Hartford, Connecticut, Patty White noticed a number of shelter guests who were not doing well in her program. Most people came into the shelter for a brief period of time and then found their way back into housing. The group Patty was concerned with used the shelter intermittently for months and years; they had co-occurring disorders and a host of other health and behavior problems. When shelter staff referred them to existing housing providers, they were always refused admission because they were using drugs and alcohol and would not agree to treatment or sobriety before housing. Patty found this intolerable, so she decided to try something new.

After a couple of meetings with Pathways staff, Patty decided she would implement a PHF program to complement the shelter program. She first had to persuade her board of directors to accept this PHF model-a harm-reduction model that in some ways incurred more risk than they were used to taking. Patty obtained a HUD Supportive Housing Program grant and was finally able to refer and accept her most vulnerable clients into her own PHF program.

Five Key Elements

Patty White succeeded in implementing a PHF program because the necessary elements were in place. These five elements are key to launching a PHF program through an existing agency.

1. The leadership of the agency, the executive director, and the board of directors must support adopting the model.

2. The staff must see the PHF program as a solution for a group of clients who are currently not well served by existing services.

3. Leadership and staff must embrace the core idea of housing offered as a basic right, rather than a privilege that must be earned through demonstrating compliance with treatment or program rules. 

4. Leadership and staff must learn and embrace a harm-reduction model in working with co-occurring disorders.

5. Ideally, new funding must be identified to implement the PHF program.

There is always some period of adjustment when a new program model is implemented, especially one that differs in value orientation and practice from existing programs. Once that initial adjustment is made and the PHF program has been operating for a few months, people in the agency or community begin to appreciate that PHF is able to engage and house people who have been homeless for years. Soon, acceptance of PHF among other providers also grows. 

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Implementing Housing First to End Homelessness

This Web conference covers the essential ingredients of operating a Housing First program.

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