2006-06-28 / Front Page

'Homeward Bound' program given national recognition

FREEHOLD - Monmouth County has received national recognition for a program begun two years ago that provides rental subsidies and case management services to chronically homeless families and individuals who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.

The program, called "Homeward Bound," is federally funded and managed by a partnership of the county and community-based agencies that treat persons with mentally illness and substance abuse. The goal is to provide safe and stable housing as well as substance abuse counseling and mental health services.

"Compliance with the service contract is mandatory in order for the program participant to continue receiving the Homeward Bound rent subsidy," Freeholder Robert D. Clifton, liaison to the county's Department of Human Services, said in a press release. "In other words, the program recipient is an active partner in the program, rather than someone who simply receives a benefit. They must agree to treatment in order to get the housing subsidy."

In recognition of the program's innovative approach to providing housing, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has awarded Monmouth County a 2006 NACo Achievement Award for the county's effort "to promote responsible, responsive and effective county government." Of the nation's 3,066 counties, 95 received a NACo achievement award this year.

"I continue to be amazed at the innovation and efficiency that counties have developed to address the new issues and problems they are facing," said Jacqueline Byers, NACo's director of research. "This year's programs did an exceptional job of doing more with less. Our achievement award winners have reaffirmed how county governments address problems with smart, creative solutions."

The driving need behind the Homeward Bound program is the lack of affordable housing for the chronically homeless population and the documented failure of the client to succeed in traditional mental health, substance abuse and social service programs. Further evidence of the need for this program is the ongoing loss of permanent housing stock in the county due to redevelopment.

"This is a difficult population to serve; the pattern of substance abuse, discontinuance from medication and withdrawal from treatment usually leads to aberrant behavior," said Lynn Miller, director of the county's Department of Human Services. "As a result, many persons with mental illness are currently placed in a correctional institution.

"In addition, with an average one-bedroom rental costing $900 a month plus utility costs, the chronically homeless has no chance of securing stable, safe, decent, sanitary housing," Miller said. "Yet we have been able to show that with our help through the Homeward Bound program these individuals and families can get the housing and treatment they need."

There are about 450 adults and 230 families in Monmouth County who are in some form of emergency shelter at any given time, Miller said. Of those, more than 40 adults and families are considered chronically homeless due to drug dependency and mental illness.

The nature of the co-occurring disability (substance abuse and mental illness) is magnified by their instability of housing. An individual living in temporary or emergency shelter, or in an unsupervised transitional housing arrangement, is less likely to attend mental health or substance abuse treatment programs. Consequently, the population is trapped in a downward spiral. Homeward Bound evaluates the housing choice of participants to ensure they are in safe neighborhoods.

The program is funded by a $1,005,480 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. All of the funds are used to provide rent subsidies. Homeward Bound is currently providing 44 rent subsidies and is operating at maximum capacity.

Members of the Homeward Bound Coordinating Committee include the Monmouth County Mental Health Board, the Monmouth County Public Housing Agency, CPC Behavioral Health, Jersey Shore University Medical Center Addiction Services, Visiting Nurse Association-Central Jersey, Gateway Day Treatment program, the Monmouth County Division of Social Services, New Jersey Department of Veterans' Affairs, and Guiding Light Day Treatment program.

The first year of the program, Homeward Bound's steering committee approved 48 applications for housing assistance. Of those, 45 individuals were able to find suitable housing and have a signed lease, translating into a 94 percent success rate. This compares to a 33 percent success rate under the traditional Housing Choice Voucher Section 8 program. Of the 45 approved leases this past year, Homeward Bound achieved a 97.8 percent success rate in keeping participants in the permanent housing placement and in treatment.

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