By Michael W. Brose, MSW

Chief Executive Officer

Mental Health Association Oklahoma

When people used to try to solve homelessness, it was like, “Hey, dude, you’re not looking too good. You look like you’re using substances of some type. You’re not stable. You’d probably stabilize with some medication. You’re tattered and disheveled. If you get all of that straightened up, we’ll help you get a place to live, treatment and a job.”

That is impossible. It’s a long shot. It’s a failed public policy.

So, along comes the Housing First model. It was coined in 1992 by Dr. Sam Tsemberis, of Pathways to Housing in New York.

What Housing First means is taking down the barriers for people who are living on the streets and moving them into housing first. Why is that? Well, many of you may remember Maslow’s Need Hierarchy. I always ask the rhetorical question: “What’s the first rung of the hierarchy?” Well, it’s shelter, safety and security. So, in other words, these individuals didn’t even make it to Maslow’s Need Hierarchy. Through A Way Home for Tulsa, a collaborative of 23 faith-based, private and public organizations, we are meeting their needs by taking care of their shelter, security and safety issues by moving them into an apartment that is safe, decent and affordable.

Once Tulsans in need are housed by A Way Home for Tulsa agencies, local social workers connect tenants to critical services in the community. Once that level of the hierarchy is taken care of, lo and behold, Maslow is right, they can begin to think about other things, like their health care, their mental health care, about getting clean and sober, about getting a job and rebuilding their lives. I tell people it’s very spiritual to watch the transformation that happens when people aren’t worried about where they are sleeping tonight.

In case you missed the Zero: 2016 Tulsa celebration a few weeks ago, A Way Home for Tulsa agencies didn’t just meet our collective goal of housing 289 veterans in 2015, we surpassed it by 10 veterans. As for ending chronic homelessness? Tulsa housed 78 of the 89 most vulnerable citizens in our community. That means Tulsa needs to house 11 more people to end
chronic homelessness. Amazing. They are now all “chronically housed.”

What Zero: 2016 Tulsa, and 74 other campaigns across the country, come down to is this simple fact: We’re all affected by mental illness and homelessness. It isn’t an US and THEM issue; it’s just US.

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