New tenants have begun moving into the fourth Housing First facility operated by PLACES, which opened in September.
PLACES opens its largest
Housing First program yet
By housing the first three of 12 new tenants in a renovated complex in Vandalia, PLACES in September officially opened its fourth Housing First facility for chronically homeless men and women diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. By the end of October, nine more tenants will be housed.
Through Housing First, PLACES provides permanent housing and on-site supportive services for adults diagnosed with mental health disorders who are homeless. The Vandalia facility is the largest of the four Housing First programs at PLACES. Cobblegate houses 10, and Tangy Court and Belvo each house eight.
“It’s so exciting for PLACES to be opening our fourth Housing First program because it brings about such a transformation for people who’ve been living on the streets,” said Roy Craig, executive director at PLACES. “It’s an opportunity to provide them a place to live, meet their healthcare needs and help them get some income and maybe employment, so they can potentially move into the community at some point in the future.”
Otherwise, by remaining on the streets, these people would end up back in shelters, in jail – or even dead, he said.
‘Exactly what we were looking for’
After PLACES was awarded a grant for the project in 2012 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it began working with Miami Valley Housing Opportunities (MVHO), which purchased a property for rehabilitation. MVHO renovated a two-building, 12-unit apartment complex and included an office for PLACES staff. PLACES now leases the property from MVHO and issues subleases to each Housing First tenant – the same arrangement used at the other three Housing First programs PLACES operates.
“The complex is in an appropriate residential setting close to bus stops, shopping and social activities – exactly what we were looking for,” Roy said.
Throughout October, PLACES staff will continue interviewing potential tenants on Montgomery County’s priority list. “We are identifying the ones who need help the most,” Roy said – those with substance abuse disorders, criminal histories or both, along with mental illness.
Getting adjusted, settling in
residential service coordinator, has been helping to get tenants acclimated.
“Each person gets undivided attention so we can get them set up in their apartment, answer their questions and calm their fears,” Tracey said. “We want them to know they are not just being housed – they are being helped.”
Part of the settling-in process includes shopping for a couple of personal items, like pillows or a blanket, for their apartment, which comes with furniture and basic household items. “Personalizing their individual space with something meaningful helps give them ownership,” Tracey explained.
Plenty of staff training, preparations
Eventually, the fourth Housing First program will be operating with five new staff members – two are part-time – plus a full-time manager.
Tracey said, “We have the right staff – people who are motivated, willing and eager to work with our new tenants – and all of them have experience working with people who have been homeless.”
The new staff members were trained in August and September on the culture, policies and procedures at PLACES. They also received clinical guidance and “mental health 101” instruction – plus information on crisis intervention, communication skills, problem solving and other topics – so they can provide the proper care.
“We want staff to follow our core values and beliefs at all times and treat everyone with dignity and respect,” Tracey said. “Our new tenants are adults who can make choices, and we are here to provide support and guidance.”
Part of the training included shadowing caregivers at other PLACES Housing First programs. “The new staff learned what to expect from tenants, so they’ll be able to provide more stability and structure and feel more confident in their performance,” Tracey said.
Being even more client-centered
Once all 12 tenants are settled in, PLACES will host a pizza party to welcome them into their new community.
“They can meet their neighbors and the staff and start off on the right foot,” Tracey said. “We want to create that feeling of inclusion, family and community.”
Building a new community is important since tenants used to rely on a different community to survive on the streets, Tracey said. “We understand that we are landlords, but we want to show them that they have support from PLACES staff and their peers to make progress and meet their goals. We want to do more things that are client-centered, looking at what each person needs and wants, and then develop a treatment plan by working with each person where they’re at.”
To do this, Tracey said she plans to have staff trained on motivational interviewing, which can help tenants move forward along the line of change. “We want to show them that they can get their needs met without doing unsafe and unhealthy things, like abusing drugs or alcohol,” she said.
Several funding sources
The program that opened in September was two years in the making. In 2011, after Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance funding was made available, PLACES applied and competed to operate a fourth Housing First program. After being screened by Montgomery County’s Homeless Solutions Policy Board, PLACES was selected in 2012 to receive a $325,372 HUD grant, which covers operating costs, supportive services, administration and leasing. Additional funding comes from Montgomery County – the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board and HOME funds – and from PLACES and tenant rents.
“PLACES was chosen because of our reputation and success with our three other Housing First programs,” Roy said. “We know how to do these projects.”
Ultimately, PLACES wants to give Housing First tenants opportunities they never may have had, Tracey said. “We want them to be independent, pay their bills and maintain a regular life, and we want people to know that PLACES is a company that’s providing support to this population. People who were on the streets are now being housed, and that’s something to be proud of in Montgomery County.”
But change will not happen overnight. “It will take a commitment from all of us – stakeholders and other providers – throughout the entire process,” Tracey said.
This safety poster hangs in the break room at PLACES as a reminder about the importance of accident prevention.
PLACES partners with BWC to focus on safety, cut costs
A renewed focus on health and safety practices over the past few years not only has kept PLACES supervisors, employees, residents, clients and tenants safer but also reduced the organization’s Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) premiums, said Stacy Nolan, human resources specialist at PLACES.
As a result, PLACES is on track this year to receive a 20 percent refund of its BWC premiums for the second year in a row, Stacy said.
“Money we don’t spend on things like insurance premiums goes toward caring for the people we serve and saving taxpayer money,” said Roy Craig, executive director at PLACES. “It is in the best interest of PLACES, and everyone here, to consider health and safety in every activity.”
Safety programs enable discounts
PLACES began reviewing its safety program after two accidents, both unpreventable, resulted in claims and caused premiums to increase. “We wanted to learn more about what we could do to protect ourselves and the people we serve and lower our premiums,” Roy said.
Figuring all this out was one of Stacy’s first projects when she took over as human resources specialist for PLACES in 2005. So she contacted the BWC and set up quarterly meetings to discuss strategies for change. Also participating were representatives from the agencies working with PLACES: the managed care organization (MCO), which manages the medical portion of workers’ compensation claims, and the third-party administrator (TPA), which helps with overall claims management.
Together with Stacy and Roy, the representatives reviewed claims and discussed safety issues and options for lowering premiums. “We are partners that share the same goals,” Roy said. “We don’t want people to get hurt, and if they do get hurt, we want them back to work as quickly as possible.”
Almost immediately, PLACES began participating in new programs – a Drug-Free Workplace Program, a 10-Step Safety Plan and Dayton/Miami Valley Safety Council meetings – that would allow PLACES to benefit from discounts on premiums for several years. All three programs are still in place, Stacy said.
Among the items spelled out in the 10-Step Safety Plan are:
Ways to involve and recognize employees, which led to a Safety and Health Committee at PLACES now headed by Wilma Woodfork; manager at Cobblegate, a PLACES Housing First Facility;
Medical treatment and return-to-work practices, which led to a transitional work program to help injured workers return to productive work as soon as possible;
Timely notification of claims;
A written orientation and training plan for safety and health;
A written safety and health policy; and
Recordkeeping and data analysis.
“Our Safety and Health Committee is very active, and we’re working on a new shoe policy to help prevent injuries,” Stacy said. “Everyone is more aware of safety issues now – both managers and staff.”
Group retrospective rating helps PLACES
Currently, PLACES is participating in the BWC’s group retrospective rating program. It allows employers of a similar industry to join together to earn refunds based on the group’s ability to reduce injury rates to employees and lower claim costs.
Participants must implement BWC’s 10-Step Safety Plan, complete a safety progress report for priority items and apply best practices in claims management strategies. PLACES is eligible to receive refunds from this program through 2014, Stacy said.
Now that BWC costs are under control, Stacy and Roy meet with representatives from the BWC, MCO and TPA every six months to discuss paperwork requirements, transitional work programs and the best way to resolve any claims.
“By having these meetings, participating in programs and taking actions, we know we are doing everything we possibly can to lower BWC costs for the company,” Stacy said. For example, selected staff from PLACES will participate in the Dayton/Miami Valley Safety Conference & Symposium Oct. 23 at Dayton Convention Center, which fulfills a requirement for the group retrospective rating program.
“Our ultimate goal is to get our premiums as low as possible,” she said.
From left: Penney Kramer, bowling coordinator for PLACES, gets ready to bowl with Elwood of the Supportive Living Program and Kathleen of the Housing First program at PLACES. Penney is case manager for the Returning Home – Ohio reentry program at PLACES.
Bowling builds community at PLACES
For PLACES residents, clients, tenants and staff, one of the most highly anticipated activities of the year is the PLACES bowling league.
“It’s good for the people we serve to get out into the community and do an activity that’s very different from their normal day-to-day routine,” said Tracey Jones, residential service coordinator at PLACES. “It teaches them how to be in the community, and it helps the community to see them interacting in a normal, positive, social setting. Often there’s a stigma, but when you see them at the bowling alley, they are just like everyone else. It’s a good way to educate the community about people with mental illness.”
Many residents, clients and tenants from all three PLACES programs, plus staff, join the league, receive team shirts and engage in friendly competition. The league, which will begin again this winter at Capri Lanes in Kettering, wraps up with a banquet in May at a local restaurant. Altogether, PLACES usually has about 15 teams.
‘When you bowl, everyone is equal’
“To watch them bowl is amazing – some of them are really competitive,” said Penney Kramer
, bowling coordinator and case manager for the Returning Home – Ohio reentry program at PLACES. “It’s something fun to do that adds to their quality of life. The staff enjoy it as well, because you really get to know someone when you are playing a game with them.”
Tracey said bowling brings the entire PLACES community closer together. “It’s nice for everyone to see other people from different PLACES programs, because no matter what your program, when you bowl, everyone is equal,” said Tracey, who’s bowled in the league for several years. “I think it’s important to teach the people we work with how to build relationships in a healthy way. It boosts everyone’s self-esteem and shows you can have a good time doing positive social activities and not negative ones.”
Bowling also tends to brighten the spirits of residents, clients and tenants who participate. “It gives them something to look forward to and talk about because they’re good at it, and they feel a sense of achievement,” Tracey said. “In fact, they’re better bowlers than the staff on their team, and they get a kick out of that.”
One of the better bowlers is a resident who is deaf. “He loves to feel the boom, the vibrations, when the ball goes down the lane,” Tracey said.
‘It’s about having fun’
Tracey said all the bowlers understand they must wear bowling shoes and follow the rules of the game. When a ball gets stuck, they know to ask someone from Capri Lanes to free the ball. “At the bowling alley, they’re independent. It’s a totally different world for them because they’re in charge,” she said.
Staff members at Capri Lanes have formed a real rapport with the bowlers and know them by name, Tracey said. “They talk to them – not down to them,” she said.
At the May banquet, participation certificates and three trophies – giant bowling pins with medals – are awarded.
“It allows the people we serve to sit down and eat together in a community and clap for those who did well,” Penney said. “They learn it’s not about winning or losing – it’s about having fun.”