Housing-first strategy ties stable residences with social services

Dawn Wade knows her place is cluttered, with knickknacks, plants, food containers and artwork covering almost every square inch of her studio apartment in Portland. But it’s hers, something that seemed far out of reach when she was homeless six years ago.

“This is home to me. It’s a community here. I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for this place,” the 54-year-old said.

Wade and 29 others live at Huston Commons apartments in Portland. One of the state’s initial “housing first” communities, it gives people who struggled with long-term chronic homelessness a place to live without pre-conditions such as clean credit histories, references or security deposits. And the apartments come with support services, such as 24-hour onsite caseworkers, food pantries and access to counselors or employment training.

A bill that would infuse $13 million a year into a plan to expand the housing-first strategy statewide is a major priority of Democratic leaders, including the bill’s sponsor, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, Gov. Janet Mills and Senate President Troy Jackson. If successful, they say it could get hundreds of people who are trapped in long-term homelessness out of crowded shelters and makeshift camps and into stable homes.

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