Douglas County Commission to consider $500,000 grant agreement to begin ‘housing first’ pilot program
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
County leaders will soon consider approving an agreement for a “housing first” pilot program that would seek to quickly place people experiencing homelessness in their own housing while also providing them “wrap-around” support services.
As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission will consider approving the county’s part of a grant agreement with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services for one-time funding of $500,000 for the housing first program, according to a county staff memo. The county will be partnering with the City of Lawrence and local social service organizations to operate the pilot program for the next three years.
The city and county proposal for the pilot program states that housing insecurity and homelessness have challenged the community for decades. The proposal states that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the community lacked affordable housing and faced substantial challenges in getting landlords to offer fair market rental rates for federal housing vouchers and rentals for people experiencing chronic homelessness and/or behavioral health challenges.
“The result has been widespread and persistent community homelessness, especially associated with behavioral health challenges, which have put significant pressures on human service providers and first responders to meet the needs of this population,” the proposal states.
The proposal calls for dedicating $250,000 of the grant to begin a treatment program with community partners in behavioral health and other health care fields. The program would provide psychiatric care, primary care, employment specialists, substance use disorder treatment and other support services to up to 40 individuals. Another $200,000 would be used to start a locally managed supportive housing voucher program that would serve as many as 17 individuals and five families for up to a year. About $25,000 would be reserved for “landlord mitigation efforts” such as damage deposits, and another $25,000 would go toward transitional support such as legal services, medical needs and household goods.
The proposal aims to provide about 15% of Douglas County’s chronically homeless population with supportive housing assistance and 25% with wrap-around behavioral health services. The proposal states that the city and county will coordinate with multiple agencies on the program, and they expect the program will improve behavioral health outcomes by reducing rates of hospitalization, mortality, substance use, homelessness and involvement with the criminal justice system.
The county and the city submitted the proposal for the program to KDADS in July and KDADS has since approved it, according to the memo.
It’s estimated there are more than 200 people who are currently unsheltered in Lawrence, many of whom are living in encampments along the Kansas River or in other wooded locations, as the Journal-World has reported. The county and city commissions adopted a joint resolution earlier this year committing both governments to collaborate on strategies to address homelessness.
The city manager’s recommended budget includes the creation of a new city division to address homelessness and housing. The county continues to build out and staff its behavioral health campus, which currently includes a transitional group home operated by Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and 10 units of permanent supportive housing operated by the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority. Once complete, the campus will also include a mental health crisis center.
The proposed housing first pilot program would be funded by a one-time grant of $500,000 from state proceeds from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to the memo. The memo states that once the one-time funding is spent, there is the possibility of continuing the program with additional “blended” funding, meaning some kind of funding partnership.
The $500,000 grant will be in addition to other sources of funding that will go to support a project manager position for the program for the next three years, according to the proposal. The project manager will be responsible for managing the pilot program as well as other related efforts that receive American Rescue Plan Act funding. The project manager will be employed by the city, with the scope of work defined and managed by KDADS in consultation with the city, the county and a steering committee of community stakeholder agencies.
The County Commission will convene at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Residents can participate in the meeting in person, virtually or via phone, and more information about those options is available at douglascountyks.org/commission/meetings.