Award of Excellence: Lincoln Place
The Vancouver Housing Authority (VHA) wins a 2018 Award of Excellence in Affordable Housing for creating Lincoln Place to house the “hardest-to-place” homeless individuals in their community. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
Unless housed, chronically homeless individuals use 50 percent of the shelter system resources, a large percentage of hospital emergency services, and have higher rates of incarceration and recidivism. VHA and other community stakeholders wanted to find a permanent solution for their chronic homeless population, and Lincoln Place was the result. Utilizing the “Housing First” model that is spreading across the country, VHA hoped to improve the mental health of their Lincoln Place residents, reduce their dependence on substance abuse, and reduce their use of emergency services.
VHA worked with its partners and service providers to bring Lincoln Place and its holistic approach to life, a feat no organization could have achieved alone. To make Lincoln Place a successful program, VHA
- Researched and identified the needs of the chronically homeless;
- Identified housing candidates using the Vulnerability Assessment Tool (VAT); and
- Met with other “Housing First” programs to learn the best practices for implementation and operation.
Homeless individuals can be difficult to house traditionally due to mental illness, substance use disorders, criminal records, physical disabilities, and poor or no rental history. VHA and its nonprofit development entity that owns and operates the building, Vancouver Affordable Housing, partnered with Share, a nonprofit for homeless individuals and families, and the Council for the Homeless to pool each other’s expertise and resources to provide services that help the residents get the help they need and stay housed.
Once a resident is selected, VHA gives them a voucher for Lincoln Place and assigns them to a case manager, who then creates a tenant management plan based on their vulnerability need assessment and goals such as:
- Securing steady employment;
- Accessing education or training opportunities;
- Decreasing reliance on emergency health care;
- Addressing substance abuse issues; and
- Setting goals for personal growth
Case managers give residents access to on-site and off-site resources like life skills workshops, support groups, and other supportive services. Share and Community Services Northwest, a community partner who treats individuals and families struggling with addiction, mental illness and homelessness, provide 24-hour on-site supportive services at Lincoln Place. The property management company, Key Property Services, works closely with case managers and residents. VHA discovered that when property managers, counselors, and case managers work together and share information, they can prevent or mitigate behavioral issues that result in property damage or evictions and can help lead to long-term success for residents.
Since opening in February 2016, Lincoln Place has housed 42 homeless individuals. Through the end of September 2017, 25 residents increased their income during the year and 22 residents were connected with health care services. Eighty-five percent of current clients saw a decrease in their average number of convictions per year and are spending 35 fewer days per year incarcerated.
According to Tyler Chavers, Neighborhood Police Officer for District 1 in the City of Vancouver, “One of my primary responsibilities has been working with the homelessness issue…When Lincoln Place came online, what I and others noticed within just a few months was the significant reduction in the calls for service to these individuals compared to when they were unhoused and roaming the streets. One of the striking things I have witnessed with regards to clients at Lincoln Place is how much they have changed; they appear healthier both physically and mentally. I have noticed attitude changes and a reduction in behavioral issues which translates to much lower incidents of arrest and time in jail–a true win, win, win.”
VHA could not have achieved this success on their own. By actively collaborating with other community stakeholders, together they overcame challenges and met the complex needs of their residents. “Get all the people at the table and talking, collaborating and compromising,” said Olivia Resnick, Share’s Housing First Director, “It is important to realize we need each other as partners and collaborators. We all come from different places, have different skills and assets, but are serving a common goal in serving our residents. Clark County has a head start because of the collaborative spirit that exists in our community, but this can be done anywhere when we keep the common goal in mind.”
They also sent staff to visit and learn from other “Housing First” programs. They collected ideas like building units with soundproofing between apartments, using dent-resistant drywall, providing durable furniture for residents, putting floor drains in each unit, and creating a bug oven for furniture and belongings brought in by residents to help prevent pest outbreaks. The visits also showed the importance of providing continuous supportive services and the need to teach tenants life skills to complete household tasks.
Before Lincoln Place was built, its lot was home to a tent village whose residents were later housed at Lincoln Place. "Residents have said if it weren't for Lincoln Place, they would be dead," Resnick said. "The building has given them a chance at life."