Christopher Leach, BSBA, CPS, CPM is the residential manager at Marion Apartments. In this Q5, he talks about how much the community is helped by this project.

Christopher  Leach, BSBA, CPS, CPM is the  residential manager at Marion Apartments. In this Q5, he talks about how much the community is helped by this project.

1. Chris, what is the Marion Apartments Permanent Supportive Housing Project that is located in Leavenworth? Who owns it and how is it funded?
 Marion Apartments Permanent Supportive Housing Project is located in Leavenworth. It is owned and operated by Mental Health America of the Heartland based out of Kansas City, Kansas. This project is a facility- based apartment program all-in-one building with 10 individual units. The program serves single male or female adults who are currently homeless and have a mental health diagnosis.
The primary source of funding is from HUD through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act which is a grant that we apply for annually on a competitive basis in a combined federal application through the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition. We are required to secure some percentage of matching funds which we do through use of unrestricted funds that our agency receives, as well as some community partners like the United Way of Leavenworth County, Geiger, and Sisters of Charity. We can also count volunteer hours as an in kind match, and have had students from KU out on many occasions.
 
2. Is chronic homelessness a requirement for acceptance and who is given priority for housing?
 Chronic homelessness is not a requirement for this particular program but is in our other PSH program here in Kansas (Blaylock), as well as most other PSH programs funded through HUD. However we do give priority to those who meet the definition of chronic homelessness.
 Our requirements or criteria for acceptance are that the person is a single adult male or female, has a documented mental health diagnosis, and is currently literally homeless as defined by HUD.
 We also give preference or priority to those that meet all of those qualifications and is a veteran. Ending veteran homelessness is a priority for HUD and so if all other things are equal a homeless veteran will be given priority.

3. What agencies in the local area does the program have close relationships with and are these the agencies you go to for referrals when there is a vacancy? What do they provide for those accepted into the program?
The two main agencies in the Leavenworth area that we partner with in providing services is The Guidance Center and the VA. Specifically the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Centers Domiciliary Aftercare Program. These two agencies provide case management and other mental health services to all our residents. Traditionally these are the two agencies that provide us referrals when we have a vacancy in the program.
 There has been a mandate from HUD that is in the process of development and implementation that is changing our traditional referral and prioritization/selection process. We are moving to a new coordinated entry process that involves all the housing providers in the Northeast Region of the Balance of State Continuum of Care to come together and develop and work off of a By Name list of homeless individuals in our area.
The basics of it are that every individual/family that presents as homeless at any entry point for services within a region is asked to take a survey. The survey is a ranking tool that determines acuity, or level of need, and gives a score. Their name then goes on a list maintained by the regional coordinator and they are ranked according to that score. We meet on a monthly basis to discuss those individuals on that list and give the person on the top of that list the next appropriate housing offer that they are eligible for. The idea and purpose behind this is to bring all the stakeholders in the community together, better identify all homeless individuals in our state and region, determine the level of need of those individuals, work to get those highest in need housed first, and better match the right individuals to the right programs so they will be successful in maintaining that housing.
 There is a similar project that I am involved in at the state level called the Vets@Home project. This is a coordinated entry process that is veteran specific to work towards the HUD goal of ending veteran homelessness. All homeless vets identified at the regional level or anywhere in the system are also given a survey and score and put on a veteran-specific By Name list. This group also meets monthly and consists of all those agencies and providers that are providing services specifically to veterans. This includes the VA and Salvation Army SSVF. Again we work off the list trying to get those in most need housed first.
 
4. What are the apartments like and what is required of those who take up residency? As resident manager and wellness and support advocates, what do you and co-worker Cameron Murray provide to ensure residents are taken care of?
 The apartment complex was built in 2005 and is a ranch-style brick and stucco building. There are 10 single occupancy residential units, an office unit and a commons room with free laundry facilities attached. Each unit is a modern one-bedroom unit with a full bathroom, living room, and kitchen. They come furnished with everything from bed, dresser, couch, to pots, pans, plates, and utensils. The units are all electric with central air and heat and utilities are included. The only things we do not provide are telephone, cable, or internet. If the resident chooses to have those services they have to pay for them themselves. Program participants are not required to have an income at the time they enter the program but those that do pay up to 30 percent of their income towards rent. Obviously some kind of income or assistance is needed to be self sufficient in providing for their own food and hygiene needs. If they do not have an income that is usually a priority for us to work with them on.
 There are very few things required of a resident once they are in the program. Residents must have the basic necessary skills to care for themselves such as preparing their own meals, personal hygiene, and keeping up with their chores. It is required that they maintain active case management through their mental health provider. If they are prescribed meds we ask that they remain med compliant. They must work on mutually agreed upon recovery goals. We ask them to participate in the recovery groups that we offer weekly. Everybody has a community chore that they must do at least once a month to keep all the commons areas clean and orderly. We also promote sobriety and abstinence from drugs. With all that said, we do however operate under the Housing First Philosophy. What this means is that we believe in getting individuals into permanent housing as quick as possible regardless of where they are at in recovery from mental illness or substance abuse and then providing them the level of services they want or need to begin to and continue to recover.
 As a residential manager I conduct all the normal duties of a traditional landlord like collecting and processing the rent, handling maintenance issues, contracting for property-related services, etc. My co-worker Cameron Murray is our official WASA or Wellness Support Advocate. However we are both Kansas Certified Peer Specialists and work to support our residents in their recovery. As I mentioned earlier we have a weekly recovery group. This is usually an hour long and we have several themes we use to facilitate recovery discussion. One group we do here is WRAP or Wellness and Recovery Action Plan developed by Mary Ellen Copeland. We also offer Pathways to Recovery a strengths-based workbook that covers many topics. We also have a monthly social event where we all pitch in and prepare a meal together and just have normal open discussion and interaction as a community. Another part of our supportive services is developing an ISP or individual success plan. This is a formalized process of helping residents to identify and take action steps towards recovery goals. These can be anything from financial, educational, physical health, or education. Sometimes support is helping a resident to identify needed resources within the community. Something as simple as where there is a food pantry and how they can get transportation, or something more difficult like filling out insurance paperwork and chasing down needed documents. Support can also mean de-escalating a person who is very close to crisis mode and helping to initiate a safety plan and get all the supports in place. Or there are days where support is something as simple as playing a board game and talking about what things are bothering a person as a coping skill so that we are alleviating symptoms and avoiding ever coming close to a crisis.
 
5. Why are projects such as this important for the betterment of all communities?
 Homelessness and mental illness is present in every community, some  is just more noticeable or seen than others. It is every community’s responsibility to address these issues and not push them off on another community or turn a blind eye to them and pretend the issues don’t exist. The fact is that most of these people can, and do recover and can go on to live independently and be productive and/or add value to our community. We as communities just have to provide those opportunities for people and empower them to recover. The Housing First Philosophy is evidence-based, it works. For many, especially those who direct policy, the bottom line is in dollars and cents. Any type of program that redirects homeless or those with mental illness into stable housing and keeps them out of jails, institutions, and emergency rooms and off the streets saves taxpayers’ money.
Permanent Supportive Housing and most other housing programs cost way less per day than jails and institutions like OSH and those options are not a solution they are a revolving door. ER visits and other use of our community resources are also reduced through providing stable housing.
For me it’s not about the monetary cost, I see things from the perspective of human cost or human suffering. It is horrible to think that there are individuals out there stuck in a vicious cycle of homelessness, jail, and being institutionalized who given the opportunity could have a stable life and begin to recover. If we have a solution that is proven to work why would we not want to better our community by bettering the lives of those in it.

— Rimsie McConiga