Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Honolulu’s RFP for “Housing First” is misguided and deficient
by Larry Geller
Honolulu’s “Housing First” program appears to be little more than a rental assistance program. Worse, according to the city’s own RFP, the primary purpose of the program is not to assist houseless residents of Honolulu, but to “alleviate their impacts” on businesses and everyone else.
Despite the title of the RFP (“Housing First Program”) the project description starting on internally numbered page 13 reveals that it is only a rental assistance program:
The City's Housing First Program is comprised of two program elements: a Temporary Housing First program that will be implemented under a separate procurement, and the rental assistance program that is the subject of this RFP that provides rental subsidies to homeless persons and families in conjunction with case management services and supportive services provided through other programs.
I think it’s also reasonable to question the proposed scope of the program—few people will be served. Can they do better? Admittedly, starting a housing program is not easy.
Far from putting Hawaii in the “vanguard” of other states, this RFP demonstrates that they just don’t get it.
Here is the very first objective of the program (p. 15):
To alleviate the impacts of unsheltered homelessness on residents, businesses, and visitors in the City and County of Honolulu through the creation of appropriate housing opportunities that will facilitate the transition of unsheltered homeless persons and families from public and private property not meant for human habitation in targeted neighborhoods, to appropriate housing in the community.
This is not a client-centered approach.
It does get better from that terrible start.
Perhaps this also explains why the city is willing to spend money that should go to Housing First to create a temporary tent camp (internment camp?) that would effectively move the offending persons and families out of public view. Mission accomplished?
In my view, the RFP is badly deficient. Housing First succeeds only when necessary support services are offered. The RFP provides not even a bare-bones specification of those services, much less the requirements for providing them (e.g., accreditation, definition and scope of services, need for background checks, reimbursement, etc.).
Wraparound services are not cheap and do not magically appear. They need to have a budget and appropriate contracts with service providers.
Perhaps the city folks weren’t paying attention at a February meeting at which an out-of-town expert discussed support services in some detail. I was sitting at an angle to the projection screen so most of my smartphone photos of the slides did not come out, but here are two:
Note at the top: “It’s Housing First, NOT Housing Only!
The supports that are needed for a proper Housing First program do not exist at a city level and those that you see on the slides do not appear in the RFP.
The state Department of Health knows how to provide these services. I recommend that anyone interested in the success of Housing First in Hawaii study how ACT and case management (including intensive case management) have been provided in the past. The documents are on the State Procurement Policy Office website organized by year. I chose 2005 because that year was before former governor Lingle’s devastating cuts to mental health services. Pretty much chosen at random: an RFP for Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) - Island of Maui. This RFP is in response to a federal court order.
Check out, for example, the Scope of Services on page 38 of Part I of the RFP. It’s too long to include here, but well worth skimming if you are interested in Housing First.
I doubt the city is able to put together an RFP for the necessary support services. It took the DOH years to learn to manage these services, but in the end, they got it mostly right. Too bad they cut them, but that’s another story, though very related to the homelessness we are now seeing in the state.
The city could, of course, either crib from one of the state RFPs, or perhaps work something out with the state for a joint Housing First program done correctly. If they did offer services on their own, of course, they’d need to pay for them. The needed array of services won’t be available free from some unnamed service provider, an empty wish of the city’s current RFP.