Housing As a Human Right

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A conversation with Daniella Cameron from Preble Street, Freedom Network USA member.  

You say that housing shouldn’t be conditional. How can organizations ensure that the housing they provide or refer survivors to maintains that value?

Organizations can ensure the housing they provide and refer survivors to maintains the human-rights approach to housing by operating from a very simple principle: Everybody deserves housing and the support necessary to maintain it. Ask questions about rules, restrictions, and eligibility. There are programs that provide housing that may require full abstinence from substance use and that may limit access to phones and technology. Find out who in your area operates Housing First programs.

What is the philosophy of Housing First and why is this approach necessary while addressing housing for survivors?

Housing First connects survivors experiencing homelessness to successful permanent housing by reducing barriers to entry and providing supportive services – it’s an effective solution to homelessness, changing and even saving lives. When survivors no longer have to deal with the stress and danger of homelessness, they begin the journey from homelessness to hope. Housing First is an opportunity for survivors to find safety, gain the skills they need to live successfully, and, for some, to move on to even greater independence. Housing First offers survivors immediate access to permanent and affordable housing to not only end their homelessness, but also provide a platform from which they can pursue their personal goals and improve their quality of life. Housing First is based on overwhelming evidence that all survivors can achieve stability in permanent housing regardless of their situation, if provided with an appropriate level of services.

What does “survivor choice” mean to you and how does it apply to housing?

We work with clients from the outset to ensure they are offered choices in how and when they work with us, while also letting them know that they are the experts of their own lives. Our job as providers is to support their process and choices. If someone is experiencing homelessness and is choosing to sleep outside instead of sleeping in a shelter, we honor that choice and talk about how to increase safety and access to basic needs. We might help them get a tent or a sleeping bag or ensure they have batteries for a flashlight, as opposed to encouraging them to access a shelter because we think that could be a safer option. We may talk to a survivor who is actively using substances about options with Housing First where their use doesn’t prohibit them from housing, but instead offers a safe, permanent home to work toward recovery.

Why is the survivor-choice mentality important?

Choice is fundamental to working with survivors – agency, power, and choice are stripped away from survivors as part of their trafficking experience. Restoring these traits alongside self-determination is critical to a survivor’s recovery. That starts by meeting a survivor where they are and putting choice at the front and center of all the work.

Can you briefly talk about the housing programs at Preble Street for survivors?

First Place is a transitional living program where young people ages 16-21 learn to live independently. Preble Street rents the apartments in which youth are placed and remains the leaseholder for the duration of the program. This gives the youth some flexibility in learning how to live independently. Preble Street can help work with the landlord and it minimizes the risk of eviction if the youth needs support along the way and navigating living on their own. Most people stay in the program for 12 months, but it might be extended up to 18 months depending on progress, personal goals, and availability of the apartment and a housing voucher.

In partnership with Avesta Housing, Preble Street operates three Housing First programs in Portland — Logan Place, Florence House, and Huston Commons — providing furnished efficiency apartments and 24-hour, on-site support for chronically homeless adults. These programs not only provide affordable housing, but also help people live independently, build community, and become good neighbors. In addition to providing apartments for women who have experienced homelessness, Florence House offers semi-private living spaces for women who are not quite ready to maintain their own apartments, as well as a small number of emergency beds for women who are temporarily homeless because of an economic or situational crisis.

Where can someone find more information about the programs?

Visit PrebleStreet.org and follow us @PrebleStreet on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Daniella Cameron, MSW, is the Senior Director of the Preble Street Teen and Anti-Trafficking Services providing program leadership to Teen Services and Anti-Trafficking Services, including program development and evaluation, policy, systems and safety development, community relations and grants management.