The Community Health Investment Fund at the UVM Medical Center supports a wide range of community programs and initiatives that improve the health of our community. The fund is overseen by the Community Health Investment Committee, which is made up of both community members and hospital staff. We invest $800,000 annually in efforts that further the priority areas identified in the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment. To date, we have supported 23 programs at 19 organizations across our service area in our current fiscal year. The 2017-2019 priority areas are: Access to Healthy Food, Chronic Conditions, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Supportive Housing.

The following guest blog is from one of our grantees in the area of Supportive Housing.

For nearly a decade, the Burlington Housing Authority (BHA) has pioneered efforts to prevent homelessness by advocating for comprehensive supports for households most vulnerable to losing their housing. After witnessing countless households become homeless due to preventable program violations, BHA identified the lack of sustainable, low barrier support services to be a gap in the community. Recognizing our unique opportunity to provide upstream intervention, BHA began piloting retention services in 2009. Now, the interdisciplinary BHA Housing Retention Team staffs three highly skilled specialists who work to proactively prevent homelessness through wrap-around support services.

Focusing on a Combination of Barriers

Each staff member focuses on a different area of need comprising of domestic violence, hoarding, and general retention cases. Through analysis of our toughest cases, we arrived at the conclusion that it’s rarely one cause that leads to homelessness; often it’s a combination of barriers including medical, mental health, substance abuse and the effects of generational poverty that make it impossible for some households to maintain housing without long-term supports. There seem to be a plethora of services available when a family is homeless but many of those supports go away or households “time-out” once they achieve a perceived level of sustainability. When families come into housing with a history of multiple challenges, any number of events can trigger a downward spiral without an existing or easy to locate safety net.

Responding to community and internal referrals, the Housing Retention Team provides rapid assessment and coordination of services to enable the household to avoid homelessness altogether, alleviating the strain on emergency housing, lapse in home-healthcare and the general trauma of trying to survive without housing. The BHA recognizes that this work takes a community effort and collaborates with our valued partner organizations to develop customized systems of support for each household, reducing duplication and reliance on emergency services and allows for expansion of the support team. In addition to retention services, this Team also processes requests from the community for emergency permanent housing placement. Many of our referrals are generated from the Community Health Teams, the Vermont Chronic Care Initiative, the UVM Medical Center’s Oncology Department and Steps to End Domestic Violence.

Tackling Hoarding

In December 2015, BHA teamed up with fellow housers, Champlain Housing Trust and Cathedral Square Corporation to initiate the State’s first Hoarding Collaborative. The compelling results of this partnership were only overshadowed by our perception of the need for this type of intervention. Since inception, forty-one (41) households have been saved from homelessness due to a hoarding issue. This outcome not only prevented a huge number of households from being homeless, it reduced the strain on code enforcement, property managers and landlords and overall increased the quality of low-income housing in the community.

Before a hoarding intervention.

Before a hoarding intervention.

After a hoarding intervention.

After a hoarding intervention.

The BHA remains committed to developing best practices for preventing and eliminating homelessness through proactive services and cultivating innovative systems of support for the community’s most vulnerable households. To learn more about the Housing Retention Team or BHA’s approach to homelessness prevention, please visit our website: www.burlingtonhousing.org.

Sarah Russell is the Director of Housing Retention and Services at the Burlington Housing Authority, administering innovative programs such as the Housing Retention and Rapid Re-housing Program, the Offender ReEntry Housing Program, and the Support and Services at Home (SASH) Program. Ms. Russell has worked for over a decade in management and delivery of support services for vulnerable households in federally subsidized housing and advocates for eviction and homelessness prevention.

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