Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s Street Outreach Team Works Every Day to Alleviate the Stress of Homelessness
The Street Outreach Team tackles two of Multnomah County’s most pressing issues — housing and mental health. The team provides outreach to connect with individuals and families impacted by mental health disabilities who are living on the street, in their vehicles and in low-service shelter locations; Most have been homeless for years, and many have co-occurring health conditions. Cascadia’s team is comprised of four counselors and four outreach case managers: two are partner agency staff whose goal is to rapidly help people transition out of homelessness and into housing and mainstream health care services.
Our service model is to outreach, engage, support, connect and test these individual’s and family’s formal support system, and then disengage. In order to end the experience of homelessness for those impacted by mental health issues we need to provide them with direct access into affordable housing, client and rent assistance, and mainstream health care systems which offer low-barrier, flexible services to those struggling with very real obstacles to health care. Our philosophy is simple: housing is health care. With a home, a person can become stable, secure, heal, and improve their health away from the risks and trauma associated with living on the streets.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of homelessness applies to those individuals and families who are literally homeless; i.e., living and sleeping on the streets, in doorways, on park benches, or in tents, vehicles, other structures not intended for human habitation, or in local shelters in our community. HUD’s definition of chronic homelessness applies to those individuals and families who are literally homeless, have been homeless for at least one year (or a period adding up to one year comprised of four different episodes within a three year time frame), and have a verified disabling health condition.
Oregon has some of the highest rates of people experiencing chronic homelessness, with over 37% who are unsheltered. Research and data show that the population of families with children experiencing homelessness is increasing and represents a growing number of households that we help to transition out of homelessness and into permanent housing. Between July 2017 and June 2018, our Street Outreach Team connected with 650 adults sleeping outside, using assertive engagement to enroll 270 into team services and placing 97 households into permanent housing.
Housing is nearly unobtainable for many without the necessary income, resources, and support and Portland’s affordable housing options are limited. Many families in our program rely completely on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) which can provide approximately $500 month, and those with Social Security Disability (SSD) typically receive less than $770 each month. Without access to subsidized housing, people living on disability incomes can no longer afford to live here in Multnomah County. As a result the number of people with disabling conditions who are experiencing homelessness is skyrocketing, and their health declines with each month they remain without a home.
At Cascadia our Street Outreach Team looks to engage with these individuals and families who are sleeping outside and are vulnerable due to mental health disabilities and other complex health conditions. While our programs are funded under the Single Adult Homeless System, our team is also able to assist pregnant moms, large families with children, couples, seniors, and single adults.
We have a specialized program within the larger Street Outreach Team, the Intensive Street Engagement Program (ISEP) that is a collaboration to provide culturally specific outreach and services, along with mental health services to those who are often vulnerable, highly visible and sleeping outside within the City of Portland. People are referred into ISEP via designated Portland Police Officers (connected with the Neighborhood Response Team), and followed up with assertive engagement initiated by our four person outreach team (two Cascadia clinicians, and two outreach workers with NARA and Urban League of Portland).
Our Street Outreach Teams provide financial assistance to secure apartments, as well as short term rental assistance to those with more acute vulnerabilities where housing is essential to safety. In the month of October 2018 Cascadia’s Street Outreach Team paid the rent for 60 households, with the average apartment rent at $996 for those we are assisting as none of those households have the income to cover their housing costs. Our services follow the “Housing First” program model which aims to connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness into permanent housing without basing their entry into housing on the precondition(s) that they are sober or are willing to participate in a treatment or service plan.
The Street Outreach Team helps participants complete a Vulnerability Assessment where those with the highest scores have an opportunity to be offered Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) via Multnomah County’s Coordinated Entry Systems for Homeless Adults and Homeless Family Households. We also help people apply for other Cascadia PSH, and specialized residential programs as they are eligible and interested. While almost all of the people we connect are in need of subsidized housing and ongoing supports connected to their housing, 64% of our placements are into market rate independent apartments. For those we place into independent housing, the Street Outreach Team provides a year of home-based individualized services to help ensure that they can maintain their housing and avoid slipping back into homelessness
Liora Berry who oversees Cascadia’s Homeless Services, said “It’s hard on the street. People are experiencing trauma daily and carry forward a lot of pain, loss and grief. We provide compassionate care to help people transform their own lives, so they can begin to experience an improved quality of life.”
Cascadia has been working in the Portland community to provide community health and housing for almost 40 years, and our services are built on the demonstrated experience of delivering compassionate, quality care to Portlanders experiencing mental health and addiction challenges. We provide a variety of services around whole health care and affordable housing, including homeless services and outreach, permanent supportive housing, client assistance to cover costs of rental screening and deposits, as well as flexible short-term rent assistance.