Lexington hopes to have its first "Housing First" program that would provide permanent housing to about 20 homeless people by the end of the year.
Charlie Lanter, the city's director of the office of homeless prevention and intervention, told the Urban County Council on Tuesday that they hope to have responses to requests for proposals from interested providers by Sept. 2. It could take several weeks to review and approve a contract with a provider.
"We hope to have it up and running by November," Lanter said.
Housing First is a model program that has been successful in other cities, including Louisville, to get chronically homeless people off the streets and into permanent housing. It's also cost-effective, Lanter said Tuesday. Chronically homeless people cost taxpayers and the government money because of repeated stays in jails, prisons and hospitals. It's cheaper to provide housing first and stabilize the person by providing wrap-around services such as drug treatment than to continue to foot the bill for jail or emergency-room visits, Lanter said.
The city hopes to put in a minimum of $200,000 to serve 20 people. It will start as a pilot program , Lanter said.
"It's a permanent housing," Lanter said. "It is not time-limited."
The Housing First program is just one of many changes that Lanter is pushing as the city's first homeless coordinator. Lanter has been in his position since May. The Urban County Council approved $500,000 for homeless services earlier this year. But that's one-time money. The council must decide whether to continue funding the program.
Not only has the Housing First program proven to be successful in other cities, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has pushed the program as a model and wants service providers to adopt it, Lanter said. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a major source of funding for homeless providers.
No Lexington-area provider has a Housing First model, Lanter said, adding that 80 percent of the people who are placed through Housing First initiatives stay in a home. For example, HUD announced Tuesday a 33 percent drop in the number of homeless veterans from 2010 to 2014. HUD officials said that drop was caused by Housing First initiatives across the country.
In addition to pursuing more Housing First options, Lanter could eventually oversee Lexington's $1.4 million in federal HUD money that goes to agencies such as the Hope Center to provide homeless services.
HUD requires that service providers use a data management service to track homeless services. However, Lexington providers have not used the system as much as it should. That costs Lexington service providers when they apply for federal HUD money, Lanter said. "It is hurting our federal application for homeless-assistance programs," Lanter said. "It is making us less competitive when new funding becomes available."
By taking over the applications for federal HUD money, the city hopes to increase the amount of money providers receive from the federal government. Lexington and Louisville have about the same number of homeless people, about 1,400, but Louisville receives $9.1 million in federal money. That's largely because it has more people dedicated to overseeing the management of that money, including two full-time people to manage the homeless data-management system, Lanter said.
Lanter is also putting together a board to help oversee the city's homeless-service programs and help it establish goals and measure outcomes. Other issues on Lanter's to-do list include the creation of a mental-health court in Fayette County and developing respite medical care for people who are discharged from hospitals but have no place to go. The city also needs more housing services for the mentally ill, Lanter said.