SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– During his years as a homeless teenager, Colton Hughes lived in underground tunnels and group shelters similar to the Missouri hotel, both left him feeling more alone and somehow still… less independent.
“I went from non-structured to really structured,” he says.
But tonight’s story is less about Colton and more about the homeless outreach effort that saved him from the streets and shelters he cycled through… It’s called Housing First.
“When people first hear about it, the knee jerk reaction is just ‘You’re doing what?’,” Randy McCoy, Housing Director at Springfield’s the Kitchen explains. “The Housing First principle: You give them a house first, then provide support services to help them achieve stability.”
Unlike group housing, Housing First works on an individual basis, providing people like Colton with an actual home of their own– and by home, we don’t mean a government housing project or homeless shelter style dorm; we mean an actual mainstream apartment or rent house.
“I was able to go in, look at MY apartment, got to sign a lease,” Colton says.
After housing is taken care of, those people are coupled with their own specific case manager.
“My case manager was amazing,” Colton recalls.
Nancy Galetti is one of those case managers.
“Part of my job as a case manager is to support them and keep them moving forward,” Galetti says.
From helping them learn the ins and outs of taking care of their apartments,to helping them apply for financial or mental assistance programs, Galetti is there for all they need, once the roof over their head is provided.
“Let’s get you unpacked, this is your home. Hang up some pictures,” she says. “Social security, disability, they needed that support.”
But what about money? Tax payers may be wondering how much this program costs them.
“Sure, so for us at the kitchen, most of the programs are funded through federal grants through the department of housing and urban development,” McCoy says.
McCoy and Galetti say the rest comes from the formerly homeless tenants themselves.
“Most of them are paying rent,” Galetti says.
“All individuals with income are required to pay 30 percent of their income. If you make a thousand dollars a month you might be required to pay 300 of your 500 dollar rent,” McCoy echoes.
What about its success rate? McCoy says it’s higher than anything yet.
“Even if it didn’t save you money, people are now ending their homelessness instead of languishing on the streets,” McCoy says.
But even if you don’t take McCoy’s word for it, just think back to Colton.
“I haven’t been homeless in years,” Colton says.
Think about how after years of living between camps and shelters, he was given… not a hand out… but a leg up through this program.
“I got a job… It felt right,” Colton says.
Most of all think about how a seventeen year old kid with nothing, became a man with two jobs, a wife and not just a place to live… but a place to call home.
“I’m starting to build myself up. Becoming a citizen, an adult,” Hughes says. “This is where I need to be.”