Guest House offers 5-step plan off streets
Richard Johnson no longer calls the Guest House a homeless shelter. "It's an anti-homeless shelter," he says.
For the last 14 years, he's drifted in and out of shelters and slept on park benches or in empty cars as he battled the ups and downs of alcoholism, drug abuse and failed recovery efforts. But today he's hopeful and enthusiastic about rebuilding his life one step at a time.
In the last 10 weeks as part of new program at the Guest House, he's been involved in treatment and counseling for his substance abuse, developed a rsum that he's submitted to three employers and received his driver's permit. He hopes to get his license in two weeks.
At 45, he's looking forward to getting a job, his own apartment and a new, secure, sober and stable life. He's not there yet, but he's hopeful.
He's not alone.
Once considered a revolving door where a homeless person could get a warm place to sleep for the night and then move on once daylight dawned, the Guest House and other homeless shelters here and across the country are moving to make permanent housing a priority for the people who come to their doors, says Cindy Krahenbuhl, the new executive director of the Guest House. Krahenbuhl, 50, formerly was director of human services at the Milwaukee Center for Independence. Before that she worked at the Curative Care Network and the Mental Health Association.
"I like getting up to go to work every day and know that I'm making a difference, not only in the system, but in the individual lives of those here," she says. "It's all about the guys."
Last year the Guest House, which has annual budget of $3 million, provided shelter and services to 487 homeless men. Of those, 48% stayed and participated in transitional programming. Almost 60% of those then left and moved into permanent housing, according to agency statistics.
Krahenbuhl replaces Andrew DeFranza, who left after two years of shaking up the system and working to create more permanent housing for the homeless.
"He really laid the groundwork for the new model that's evolving and we're going to continue to build on that," says Krahenbuhl.
In partnership with Heartland Properties of Chicago, the Guest House plans to build 24 new, affordable housing units at 1218 W. Highland Ave. Half of the units will be reserved for those who are homeless or have disabilities.
Other affordable housing projects also are under development by other groups, including a 48-unit project under construction at N. 26th and W. Center streets, and the proposed renovation of the former Johnson Community Health Center at 1230 W. Grant St., which would provide 89 housing units.
The projects all were developed in reaction to a series of stories in the Journal Sentinel about the abysmal housing conditions for those who are homeless and suffer from mental illness.
In addition to housing, homeless people need supportive services, Krahenbuhl says.
The Guest House has developed a new program called LEADS, for Launch, Explore, Achieve, Discover and Succeed. Each stage comes with a certain list of criteria needed to move to the next stage, and a set of privileges, such as extended curfew and increased recreational activities.
Each person gets a case worker and a series of services to help him move through the stages into a job and a home.
Each stage corresponds to a letter in the acronym that are hooked on a keychain. Each participant must complete all five parts of the program, which includes following shelter rules, clean alcohol and drug tests, getting a job, and saving money. When all stages are successfully completed, the man gets a key to an apartment that he can put on the chain.
Johnson has completed the first two stages. He's having a hard time finding a job because of his run-ins with the criminal justice system, he says.
But he believes in the program. "This works better because it's not just talk. There's coaching and you see other men going to work, saving money and moving out," he says.
Tim Matthias, 41, now a resident service manager at the shelter, was homeless when he came to the Guest House because of drug and alcoholic problems, chronic depression and anxiety. He went through a different program at the shelter - a classroom approach that preceded LEADS - but found it worked for him. He's now completely independent, paying rent and thinking about the future.
"I was always a blue collar worker, but now I'm seriously considering going back to school and maybe work in the social service field," he says.
source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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