Housing, Homelessness, and Social Inclusion: Essential Elements of Healthy Communities
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“Reconnecting to a viable sense of self and community is a crucial step in the recovery process for people who have experienced homelessness.” 1
Homelessness has become a widespread public health issue with an estimated 671,859 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States.2 Stable housing is an essential human need and is a key social determinant of both health and mental health. Many who become homeless have a history of either childhood or adult trauma, or both, that can lead to the development of mental health problems and/or substance use disorders which become worse when an individual lives on the streets or in shelters.
“The goal of all prevention efforts must be safe, stable affordable, housing in mainstream settings and high quality services in the community,” wrote Kenneth R. Wireman in the Journal of Primary Prevention.3 Without this, homelessness will continue to be a major issue with huge human and economic costs that affect individuals and the community. The importance of social connectedness must also be recognized and acted upon to reduce homelessness. Research has shown the importance of social connectedness to prevent homelessness and to help those who have experienced homelessness to reenter their communities as contributing members. Involving people in recovery in the development of services that support growth, wellness, and empowerment is essential if social inclusion is to become a reality. Preventing homelessness for individuals leads to improved health outcomes and reduced costs.4
- To learn about the recent precedent-setting court rulings to address violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Olmstead and ensure that people’s rights are respected and that they have appropriate housing choices that best meet their needs.
- To provide an overview of current trends and practices in the field, including how to prevent homelessness.
- To develop an understanding of social connectedness, social capital, and social inclusion as the foundation for developing programs that support people who have been homeless to successfully reenter their community. This also fosters the health of communities overall.
- To learn how one person moved from being homeless to being a homeowner and the lessons that can be learned from his recovery journey.
Livia Davis, M.S.W., CSWM
Livia Davis is the project director for the SAMHSA Services in Supportive Housing Technical Assistance Center at the Center for Social Innovation. She is responsible for responding to demands for technical assistance and monitoring grantees who provide services to people who have experienced chronic homelessness but who are now living in permanent supportive housing. Prior to joining the Center for Social Innovation in 2007, Ms. Davis had 14 years’ experience developing and operating homeless services and housing programs, including permanent supportive housing and residential treatment programs. She has experience developing and leading a continuum-of-care collaborative which monitors performance of Department of Housing and Urban Development grantees.
Ms. Davis was a first-responder assisting Hurricane Katrina evacuees arriving at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts in 2005. Her responsibilities included helping evacuees live in military barracks, working with staff from state and federal departments, and recruiting and training dozens of volunteers.
She has been featured in national media and has presented on social connectedness at national conferences. Ms. Davis holds a B.A. in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic and a M.S.W. from Boston University. She grew up on her great-grandfather’s 300-acre farm in Denmark where up to 125 people who experienced homelessness could live, work, and belong to a community. This gave her first-hand experience of a model that emphasizes social inclusion, consumer involvement, and supported employment as the cornerstones for empowerment and the development of independence for all who lived there.
Bonnie Milstein, J.D.
As a staff attorney in the 1980s and1990s at the David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Bonnie Milstein led the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities housing task force in amicus briefs to the Supreme Court and pursued administrative advocacy with the Federal departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Labor, and Education. She successfully pressed for the inclusion of people with mental disabilities in the drafting and passage of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the ADA, and the Civil Rights Restoration Act. In 1994, Ms. Milstein moved to HUD, where she directed the agency’s enforcement of civil rights laws. She later became HUD’s Fair Housing Co-Director and Community Builder in San Francisco. In recent years, she has been a housing and disability specialist in her consulting firm, Equal Opportunity Strategies. Ms. Milstein returned to the Bazelon Center in December 2009, where she now serves as the Director of Housing Policy, heading up the Bazelon Center’s housing advocacy program.
Michael Kelly, CPS
Michael Kelly is a formerly homeless person who has recovered his life with the help of Housing for New Hope programs. He works with Housing for New Hope's Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) Program as an outreach worker and certified peer support specialist. He also works with Housing for New Hope’s OPC program as a housing support specialist helping clients in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC area find affordable housing. Mr. Kelly is a founding member of the National PATH Consumer Provider Network and a consumer advocate member of the North Carolina Interagency Council for Coordinating Homeless Programs. He also is a member of Housing for New Hope’s alumni association and is on several local boards and committees as a consumer advocate and advisor.
Mr. Kelly states that he is proof that the continuum-of-care and supportive housing works. In the last few months, Mr. Kelly picked up both his four years of clean time key tag and the keys to his new Habitat for Humanity home. Mr. Kelly likes to share his journey with others to help them understand how homelessness can happen to anyone. He has spoken at events in Raleigh, Durham, and Winston-Salem, NC; Phoenix, AZ; and just recently, before newly elected members of Congress and their staffers in Washington, DC.