by Edie Jessup
“There are other ways to achieve the elimination of homelessness in our area.” “YCSPI is a place for second chances.”
I have just returned from Alfred, Maine, and the York County Shelter Programs, Inc. I went back to visit YCSPI, where I worked for 8 years in the 1990’s. What I saw there, after 16 years absence was stunning. A model of addressing homelessness that was exactly the opposite of what I have seen in California and Humboldt County.
YCSPI has developed over time the ‘overnight to life’ model of addressing the issues underlying homelessness, and providing 24/7 responses that ensure stability for the houseless, very poor, addicted and mentally untreated individuals on the streets. Right now, this program embodies the whole ‘continuum of care’ for its clients, through one agency which assures that services flow directly to the client thus ensuring the highest independence possible.
YCSPI has over 400 beds in a variety of supported housing. Housing alternatives all follow emergency and transitional programs as part of 24/7 beds and individualized treatment programs. They are licensed for substance abuse and mental health treatment. They own over 30 properties representing various permanent housing options for clients who have been through their programs in emergency and transitional shelter. The annual budget for the YCSPI is over $5 million. They have carried case management, as needed, to their permanent housing, that includes shared housing, individual, and family housing.
YCSPI is a place for second chances. If you have successfully progressed through shelter programs and into community housing, and you need to come back to the shelter briefly for stabilization, that is possible, without losing your permanent housing. They have a 200 acre farm where recovering residents produce organic food for Portland, Maine, Farmers Markets and a community kitchen. The vocational program at the shelter involves the Bakery, where baked goods are produced for sale, food for the shelter programs, and their community feeding programs. They have a ‘no questions asked’ pantry for the community, where residents work providing food for low income families in the community: to prevent their becoming homeless. Show up, and you can get food for your family.
Residents of the shelter begin job training where they are at. If they can begin working even one hour a day that is a success. The result is people regain community respect for their participation. Over 1/3 of the 85 employees were former residents who have succeeded, been trained to work with other clients, and been supported in getting their GED’s, BA’s and MA’s and clinical substance abuse and mental health licenses over time. The employees all are paid over minimum wage, with benefits.
So, how did this develop into a housing continuum for over 400 clients currently? The Shelter started out in 1985 at the old York County Jail, leased for $1 a year, converted slightly into rooms with shelter beds. But from the outset, the emergency shelter was committed to providing individualized programs for attaining the highest independence possible, with full respect for the effort and support of housing, food, health care needed by all clients. When YCSPI did not have the services in house, they either advocated for their clients to receive community based services or built the services in-house. Community partnerships have led to purchasing housing properties and working with their Community Action Program (like Redwood Community Action Agency locally and the Housing Authority at the state level).
There are other ways to achieve the elimination of homelessness in our area — other than a misunderstood notion of what ‘Housing First’ means: shelter 24/7, from day one; time to recover; engagement with case management on site; substance abuse and mental health programs on site; work that benefits the community; and the ability to stabilize lives with permanent, truly affordable housing.
What York County Shelter Programs with a second chance commitment to people has accomplished is a very small recidivism rate and ongoing support as long as needed. We could learn to do that here in Humboldt.