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Chelsie Caban Stevens, her three daughters and their dog
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A new University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa study has found that Housing First, an approach that provides homeless people with rapid housing placement, followed by support services as needed, has maintained a 97-percent retention rate in its first year.

“The Housing First Project has been very successful,” said Assistant Professor Jack Barile, who co-authored the study, adding that the success once clients were housed was “incredible.”

The Department of Psychology in UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences conducted the study on the status of the first increment of the Institute for Human Services (IHS) Housing First initiative under a contract with the City and County of Honolulu. The report covers progress made within the first 12 months of the program’s implementation, between December 2014 and December 2015.

Key findings from the report include overall improved health and wellbeing with an increased participation in the community and increased community support. Significant key findings showed Housing First clients having a 23% decrease in number of physically unhealthy days; 25% decrease in mentally unhealthy days; 31% increase in energy levels; 52% having reported no alcohol consumption; 65% having reported no illegal drug use; and 15% increase in participation with community activity groups with a 7% increase of having higher levels of social support.

Documenting progress through photographs

The report, co-authored by Barile and graduate research assistant Anna Smith, was released as part of the opening of a photography exhibit at Honolulu Hale entitled: Lived Experiences: Out of Homelessness into Housing, Featuring a Photographic Study by Housing First Participants.

As part of the evaluation, a photovoice study was conducted. The study captured visual testimonials, thoughts, emotions and life experiences of 20 Housing First participants. Participants were given their own cameras and asked to record their everyday lives while in the program during a four-week period. After taking nearly 300 photographs, participants identified topics reflective of their collaborative experience of recently moving into housing within the first year of the program.

Selected images from the Institute for Human Services

Housing First participants Chelsie Caban Stevens and daughters

View the whole collection on Flickr.

“The human challenges of homelessness are visible and pressing,” said Denise Eby Konan, dean of the College of Social Sciences. “Our faculty expertise is helping IHS and the city evaluate the Housing First program to assure its effectiveness for clients and our society. For example, this photovoice exhibit allows policymakers to see and experience critical moments in the lives of clients in their first year.”

IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell added, “The photography exhibit is a testament to the impact and importance of housing as being a critical tool in an individual family’s path toward proper health, healing, safety and stability. It is an opportunity to share with our community the voice and faces of those who lived through transformation and promotes critical dialogue about causes of homelessness, housing and services, generated through photographs.”

Forthcoming is an evaluation of medical data, criminal reports and other information to provide a holistic picture of the costs and benefits to the community and the clients being served by Housing First.

—By Kelli Trifonovitch

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