A program that has had one of the biggest impacts on our efforts to end chronic homelessness has been the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (S8HCV) program. Just over a year ago, Journey Home began serving as the coordinator of this program for the City of Hartford. Our role includes screening applications for the new chronically homeless preference in the S8HCV program. This preference includes people who were formerly homeless and who now live in supportive housing (apartments with social services included). When someone is awarded a voucher through the preference, the old supportive housing unit is freed up for someone who has been experiencing chronic homelessness to obtain stable housing.

This program has had a big impact for three reasons: it has increased the number of people for whom we can provide a home, it has created enormous cost savings, and it is providing more housing options for those experiencing chronic homelessness. First, this program has quadrupled the rate at which we normally increase access to supportive housing each year. Hartford normally adds 20-30 units of supportive housing each year. However, through the S8HCV preference, 112 households who were homeless have successfully moved into apartments in the past 14 months, and not a single one has fallen back into homelessness.

The second reason the S8HCV program has had such a big impact is, compared to other types of programs, there will be approximately 48 – 73 million dollars in cost savings over the next 10 years. To clarify, if we were to develop and provide new supportive housing to meet the needs of these same 101 households, it would have cost approximately 23 million public dollars over ten years. Several studies have shown that the high cost of shelter, emergency room stays, inpatient visits, police, legal, and incarceration by each person experiencing chronic homelessness is between $25,000 and $50,000 annually. Being conservative, this amounts to $25 million dollars in expenses for the 101 people over 10 years. The S8HCV program is not only helping us to maximize housing resources in the most efficient way we can to meet our goal of ending chronic homelessness, it is also preventing more public costs.

Finally, the third reason this program is having such a big impact is that it is providing individuals and families experiencing homelessness with more choices for where they want to live and what kind of assistance they prefer. When people have a voice in deciding where to live and what kind of services they would like to have, it usually leads to better stabilization in housing, and a higher quality of life for the individuals and families we are serving.

The City of Hartford is the only municipality in the country that we know of that has implemented such strong S8HCV preferences for the chronically homeless, homeless families and homeless youth. Journey Home is grateful to the Connecticut HUD field office, to Imagineers LLC, to the City of Hartford, and to all our partner agencies in the Greater Hartford Coordinated Access Network for their partnership on this program.

This program should be recognized nationally for its high success rate, for the increased number of chronically homeless people served, for the vast cost savings, and for the increased choice provided to those who are struggling in our community. It should also be applauded as a game-changer in the long fight to eradicate the complex social problem of chronic homelessness.