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Homeward Bound Houses 1,000 in WNC

Homeward Bound, a social service in Buncombe and Henderson counties, has hit a milestone on its way to eliminating chronic homelessness in the region.

A spokesman announced Monday that as of last month, the organization has provided permanent housing for 1,000 people.

“The really good news,” said Executive Director Jim Lowder, “is that we have an 89 percent retention rate. 89 percent of the people we’ve placed in housing have never become homeless again.”

The organization has been in Western North Carolina since the 80’s. It was originally called Hospitality House, but it went through a shift in 2006 when it decided to embrace a new approach to eliminating homelessness called housing first.

Lowder explained the term: “Under the housing first model, we place folks into housing first and then we surround them with the appropriate  level of support they need to stabilize their lives and begin a new chapter, living meaningful productive lives again.”

Lowder said the idea has become the standard for organizations trying to stop homelessness in the US.

The model is different from more traditional housing eggorts, which were often called “housing readiness,” and revolved around the idea of preparing someone for daily life before giving them housing. “And that never worked. We kept trying that for years and what we ended up doing was building more and more shelters and people stayed longer in shelters.

“What really has proven to work is just the opposite approach,” Lowden said. “Permanent housing and then support is really the key to ending homelessness.”

And it makes sense. If you ever took Psych 101, you’ve heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—essentially, the argument is that you need physiological comfort and security, like shelter and food, before you can work on repairing psychological or social problems.

Homeward Bound provides homes for the homeless through its relationships with public housing, private landlords, and churches and other organizations.

Often, those without homes aren’t able to sign a lease or put down a security deposit, so Homeward Bound can also provide subsidies or other assistance.

Lowder says the humanitarian reasons for ending homelessness are powerful. But so are the economic ones.

“It costs more for someone to be homeless in Asheville than it does to put them in an apartment.”

That’s according to a recent study from HUD, the federal housing administration:

“It costs taxpayers about $23000/year for someone to remain homeless in Asheville because they bump up against and use all the public services that we pay for. The hospital emergenct room, the police department, the sheriff, the jail, the health department, public works… all the public services that come to bear on someone who is homeless is very expensive.

“Once you get someone into housing and stabilized, their reliance on those public services significantly diminishes. So it’s actually an economic benefit to the community to get someone into housing.

Homeward Bound is a part of the Asheville City and Buncombe County ten-year plan to eliminate chronic homelessness, which agencies committed to in 2006.

Lowder said while we’re on track, there’s still a lot that people can do to help.

“There’s a whole lot of ways folks can become involved in helping us do this as we move the next thousand people,” Lowder said.