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On March 22, the state’s only efficiency-style apartment building for the chronically homeless — defined by HUD as a single, disabled individual who has lived on the streets for over one year — opened in downtown Portland. The immaculate newness of Logan Place, which features yellow-and-peach painted hallways and bright, cookie-cutter apartments each with a small kitchen, bath, and bedroom, stands out on Frederic Street, a dead-end side street near the turnpike lined with single-family homes and aging multi-unit apartment buildings. Organizers hope this brand-new building will be a unique antidote to area homelessness, one which places long-term housing before case management or outreach services. But one longtime counselor at Portland’s Milestone Foundation wonders how Logan Place staff will support a building full of tenants he says have long histories in Milestone’s detox center.
Logan Place is managed by Avesta Housing, a nonprofit housing agency on Cumberland Avenue, which launched the project with help from private investors, federal funds, and city dollars. Already, all but one of the 30 units is occupied. All residents suffer from physical or mental disabilities (another part of the definition of chronically homeless) and organizers say many struggle with mental illness or substance abuse.
Tenants pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent and sign a six-month lease with an option to renew. The remainder of the rent comes from Section 8 housing vouchers from HUD. Support staff will be provided by local homeless outreacher Preble Street Resource Center. It is the first program in Maine based on the "housing first" model, a method of addressing homelessness pioneered by Los Angeles developer and activist Tanya Tull in 1988.
Tull’s nonprofit, Beyond Shelters, places homeless families in apartments around LA and provides case management, crisis intervention, and emergency rent to help families return to mainstream society. Tull also serves as a consultant for housing-first programs around the country. She has not worked with Logan Place, but says the housing-first model to which it ascribes is key to curing homelessness.
"Getting housing is the beginning of getting well," says Tull, who requires her tenants with a history of substance abuse to go through a six-month rehabilitation program before she works with them. "Everybody who’s homeless, no matter what their other problem is, suffers post-traumatic stress disorder [from life on the street]. They can’t function well and they’re asked to jump through hoops. So in this program, we’re recognizing that most people, even people using, want to maintain a stable place to live and will stabilize and begin to try to look forward and getting back their life. You do have some losses, there are some people you can’t help. But most of them want to get through this."
Unlike many programs or shelters for the homeless, once tenants are placed, Tull’s housing-first program does not require those who relapse into substance-abuse problems or suffer from mental illness to seek help in order to stay in the housing. She only asks that her tenants be good tenants, the logic following that substance abusers and those with mental illness who don’t seek help will be bad tenants.
The philosophy at Logan Place follows suit. According to Jon Bradley, Assistant Director of Preble Street Resource Center, case management and group counseling will be available on-site to tenants, but no one is required to participate in these programs in order to stay.
"Part of the problem these folks have is other programs make them go through so many hurdles," says Bradley. "They’re going to do better if there’s a reason to [participate], if there’s an incentive."
The incentive for troubled tenants, Bradley believes, is to avoid the kind of conduct that can cause eviction — like rowdy behavior, illegal activity, or damaging the property.
Curtis Haynes, a shelter staffer and substance abuse counselor who has worked for 14 years at the Milestone Foundation shelter and detox program on India Street, says at least 20 of the 29 current residents at Logan Place are recurring clients of Milestone. He believes Logan Place will return a sense of dignity to tenants who have hopped from shelter to shelter for months and may help the homeless alcoholics he’s worked with finally kick the habit. But he wonders how messy the road to recovery at Logan could be.
"They [Logan Place] took the worst of the worst drunks," says Haynes. "We’re all sitting back and watching, it’s like eggshells, waiting to see what’s going to happen there. I know they’ve got a beautiful place and if they can make it work, that’s great."
Maria Tripp, services coordinator at Logan Place, says the first three weeks of Logan Place have been without major incident and tenants are excited and optimistic about the program. Haynes, however, says he knows of two former tenants who were evicted for bad behavior. Tripp maintains no one has been evicted yet. Bradley did not allow the Phoenix to interview tenants of Logan Place.
Issue Date: April 22 - 28, 2005
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