Shelter manager offers simple solution to end homelessness

Oxford Street Shelter manager Rob Parritt says the way to end homelessness is to get people in homes. (WGME)

PORTLAND (WGME) – It’s a simple answer to a complex issue. Oxford Street Shelter manager Rob Parritt says the way to end homelessness is to get people in homes. Case workers at the shelter follow the housing first model and work to provide homeless people with permanent housing first.

“It’s more cost efficient and also more humane to just put somebody in an apartment and meet them where they’re at,” Parritt says.

Parritt says the majority of people using the shelter have situational homelessness and find their way out of the system in as little as two weeks. A small percentage get stuck and those are the people case workers pay close attention to.

“It’s the person who has paranoid schizophrenia who self-medicates every day and can’t even fill out an application for MaineCare,” Parritt says. “Those are the folks who were going to sit down with and try to figure out how to provide services to.”

People like Mike Smith.

“When you’re homeless you’re usually carrying your clothes or whatever you really own on your back,” Smith said. “People look at you a little differently not so bad but not so good.”

Smith was living at the Oxford Street Shelter on a permanent basis for almost two years. He was what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calls “chronically homeless.” He was one of the 96 chronically homeless clients the Oxford Street Shelter got into permanent housing last year.

“The stress level is zero you know the attitude of my gratitude is really high,” Smith said. “I’m grateful.”

Preble Street also subscribes to the housing first model. The non-profit opened the 30 units at Logan Place to house chronically homeless individuals 15 years ago. A study conducted by Maine Housing Authority showed one year after it opened it saved on average more than $900 a person. It also permanently reduced the use of emergency shelters and services.

“The night we opened the very night we opened the census numbers at the Oxford Street Shelter went down ten percent and they stayed down for four years until the recession hit,” Mark Swann the executive director of Preble Street said.

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