BOISE — Idaho’s first permanent supportive housing community for the chronically homeless saved the community over $1 million in its first year of operation, according to a report from Boise State University.
New Path Community Housing, which opened just in time for Christmas in 2018, is a 40-unit housing complex on Fairview Avenue, and has apartments and supportive services for some of Ada County’s residents who have been experiencing homelessness the longest. The Housing First program is considered “low-entry” housing, which means it serves residents no matter their income, sobriety or any other factors that might preclude them from traditional housing.
The philosophy behind the program is to give residents stable housing first and supportive services to help them get back on their feet once they have a roof over their head. And, according to BSU’s Idaho Policy Institute’s report on the building’s first year of operation, it’s working.
New Path has helped sharply reduce these residents’ interactions with law enforcement, decreased their emergency room trips and use of homeless shelters, resulting in savings for taxpayers and philanthropic resources in a variety of areas. In its report, IPI tracked each New Path resident's use of all of these high-cost services and determined the overall cost to the community was reduced roughly 63%, for a total savings of an estimated $1.3 million.
The project was the result of collaboration from roughly 50 community partners, including the city of Boise, Ada County, the Treasure Valley’s two largest hospital systems, Ada County/Boise City Housing Authority and the Idaho Housing and Finance Association.
“When we first put this partnership together some people recoiled at the concept of ‘housing first,’” Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo said in a press release. “Now the enormously gratifying news for us to share is that the national data, and our local experience at New Path, clearly shows that this housing first approach is working. Saving lives and saving taxpayer dollars — this is exactly what we hope for in good public policy.”
The project’s preliminary success lays the groundwork for Boise to open its second permanent supportive housing project, called Valor Pointe, on State Street for chronically homeless veterans. The 26-unit Valor Pointe is under construction and set to open this fall.
To calculate the community savings, IPI looked at records three years prior to New Path opening to determine how often its residents were spending time in jail, staying in emergency homeless shelters or being treated by paramedics or in hospitals instead of going to primary care. Three years before moving into the building, the report said the average resident was costing the community $77,108 per year. A year after moving in, the same cost went down to $25,763.
These savings is higher than the $1 million cash investment the city made into the building. It also tracks closely with the Idaho Policy Institute's 2016 estimate of $2.7 million in savings for housing 100 chronically homeless residents. This 2020 study examined the effect of 52 residents of New Path.
Quantitative data gathered from interviews with staff and residents showed that New Path residents are thriving in their new homes, along with the data finding the residents are using fewer high-cost community services.
“New Path service providers report residents look healthier, are calmer and more stable, and are taking on more personal responsibilities,” the report said. “In addition, they report residents are receiving improved social treatment in the community.”
Despite the good news, New Path hasn’t been without its challenges. The IPI report said the project’s support service staff from Terry Reilly Health Services struggled with turnover in the beginning months due to the overwhelming nature of the work and concerns that the program does not have stable funding year to year because it comes from appropriations from Ada County and St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus health systems.
Originally, there was only 24-hour security in the building, instead of a support staff member on site to assist residents. This caused residents to seek out the onsite property manager, who did not have training in social work, for help. Several months into the process the security was lessened in favor of a 24-hour support staff member on duty, which the IPI report said helped residents and staff.
There have also been challenges with residents who need a higher level of day-to-day medical care than New Path is set up to provide. The report does not say if a solution to this problem was developed for residents who moved out of the building for medical reasons.