SALEM —Breaking New Ground, Oregon’s five-year Statewide Housing Plan, articulates how Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) will pave the way for more Oregonians to have access to housing opportunities and achieve housing stability and self-sufficiency through six policy priorities. These priorities include equity and racial justice, ending unsheltered homelessness for Oregon’s Veterans and children, permanent supportive housing, bridging the affordable rental housing gap through an ambitious rental housing production agenda, expanding homeownership opportunities and addressing the housing needs of rural Oregon.
Oregon’s homelessness crisis is led by competing circumstances: housing unaffordability and lack of supports for those struggling with mental health and addiction challenges. Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a proven effective, evidenced-based best practice that combines affordable housing with supports and services to more effectively serve the most vulnerable populations, including people who are or are at risk of homelessness or institutionalization. PSH is a key resource for people who, without support, may not be successful in maintaining stable housing. Conversely, without housing, many may not be successful in using health care and other services to achieve and maintain recovery, health and wellness.
The Corporation for Supportive Housing currently estimates that Oregon is in need of 12,472 PSH homes across the state; whether these homes be for our most vulnerable neighbors with complex medical conditions, behavioral health disorders, child welfare system involved families, individuals reentering the community from jails or prisons, or those exiting the state hospital. We also know that within this need there are disproportionate impacts on people of color. With homelessness affecting people of color at nearly quadruple the rate of white households, a thoughtful PSH strategy can help reduce disparities and create equitable outcomes.
The need is great and the impact is substantial. Our society spends billions of dollars to respond to crisis and treat conditions without looking further upstream for earlier, more cost effective interventions. Our investments in healthcare, behavioral health treatment, the criminal justice system, medical care and education are laid to waste without access to stable, affordable housing coupled with the supportive services. Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Patrick Allen, recently referred to the Oregon State Hospital as “the world’s most expensive homeless shelter” with a cost of “$1,324 per day for each patient.” Compare this to the cost of PSH at $64-$84 per day, an intervention that could more effectively and holistically serve many who find themselves in the State Hospital. At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves if our current strategies are the most cost effective and result in greater wellness, improved lives and a better community.
We asked ourselves just this question while developing the Statewide Housing Plan. At public forums and focus groups, communities across Oregon shouted out the need for a new approach. The need for a statewide PSH strategy reverberated with housing and service providers and the clients that they serve. Under Governor Kate Brown’s leadership, and with more than $50 million allocated by legislative leaders, OHA and OHCS have come together to implement an Oregon PSH initiative to build, operate and provide the necessary services for 500 new PSH homes in Oregon. The funds allocated this session bring us closer to the goal outlined in the Statewide Housing Plan of funding 1,000 new PSH homes to improve the long term housing stability of vulnerable Oregonians.
As we roll out this PSH initiative, collaboration is critical. Without OHA and other state agencies like the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, Criminal Justice Commission, Department of Corrections and Department of Human Services by our side in this endeavor, we could not make this initiative happen at the state level. And the same is true at the local level. Housing developers, local Public Housing Authorities, Community Action Agencies, Coordinated Care Organizations, Continuum’s of Care, non-profits, and city and county governments are critical in helping to bring both housing and services together under one roof. To foster those relationships, we are working with the Corporation for Supportive Housing to launch the first PSH Institute in Oregon. To participate in the PSH Institute, housing developers, service providers and property management companies will make an intentional commitment to collaborate in a new way to ensure Oregon’s PSH infrastructure is built for success.
No one strategy can end our homelessness crisis, but PSH is an incredibly powerful tool as we work to ensure all Oregonians have access to safe, stable, affordable housing. Innovative strategies like PSH, built on a foundation of collaboration, will bring the change we need to end homelessness and improve equitable outcomes across our state.