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FSPS is successfully merging the concept of peer support (as rooted in the mental health and substance abuse realms) with the approach of ‘wraparound’ services and tenancy preservation in the housing world. Through FSPS, individuals who themselves have experienced living without shelter (among a variety of other challenges in life) are trained and partnered with buildings that commonly house people who have been homeless and/or are at risk of becoming homeless. Their job then becomes to offer support to access community resources (particularly when struggling with issues that might threaten their tenancy), advocate at housing court, assist with conflict mediation (between tenants and property management and/or between tenants themselves), and help build the ‘sense of community’ than can ease and improve everyone’s living experience and life overall. In the last year, FSPS has also expanded capacity to be able to offer peer support to individuals in the broader community who are struggling with housing, even when not attached to a building where peer supporters are specifically based. Additionally, FSPS is now piloting an education component including offering housing rights education workshops wherever there is interest to increase reach and spread of knowledge.
Peer support has rapidly grown in popularity in the mental health and substance abuse fields. However, these systems remain siloed in spite of the fact that (as Audre Lorde said), “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” FSPS reaches beyond the bounds of ‘one issue’ models to integrate peer support and see people as whole individuals surviving many challenges. It is one of the first efforts of its kind. It recognizes the importance of meeting people’s basic needs, and the fundamental challenges they may have in doing so, while raising up the expertise of those who have ‘been there.’ The developer of FSPS, Earl Miller, has himself experienced homelessness and shares openly about that as well as his experience in the psychiatric system, and other challenges in life. Hear him share some of his story at a ‘Community Conversation’ here: https://archive.org/details/EarlMillercommunityconversations
FSPS is a part of the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community (RLC). The RLC has existed since 2007 and has become an international leader in developing peer-to-peer support approaches, producing related educational materials, and training others to replicate their efforts. The coordinator of this project, Earl Miller, won a leadership award from the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium in 2015 for his development of FSPS. He will be offering a keynote address at the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA) in Maine in September of 2017. As represented by the attached brochure below, FSPS has also begun to pilot workshops on housing rights, tenancy preservation, and a variety of topics to help people across the state and beyond become more knowledgeable and more effective at offering housing-related support.
What makes this effort most sustainable is that it is designed to facilitate partnership between multiple funders. It requires only a relatively small contribution from each building, property management company, or other funder, and all those pieces come together to fund peer supporters that work across structures. The RLC has also been able to successfully leverage existing work and funds to acquire local foundation grants that enable them to offer peer supports to buildings that are just exploring the idea and not yet ready to commit their own dollars, as well as to help individuals who are not attached to specific structures but who need assistance related to housing or homelessness. Currently, FSPS works most actively with Arise for Social Justice, Home City Housing, and the Rainville in Springfield, Massachusetts. Plans are underway with at least three other buildings to begin offering similar supports.
As aforementioned, it requires minimal dollars (as little as $800 per month) to initiate peer support in a given setting (of particular note given the fact that the impact of even a few hours per week can be immense on individual and community wellbeing). The goal is for buildings and/or property managers to come to a point where they value the contribution of peer supporters enough to be willing to offer funds toward their presence. That said, outside dollars or seed funds can be particularly useful in the relationship-building, ‘proving value’, and training process. In the last year, FSPS has expanded its availability to share information and support others to replicate this model including an FSPS workshop presented at the annual Alternatives conference in San Diego, California in October, 2016.
This effort began in 2015 with The Rainville, a 46-unit building designed to create permanent housing for individuals who have been homeless. In the first year, eviction rates dropped by over 80%, 100% of the building’s residents obtained health insurance (as compared to about 60% beforehand), and 15 people were connected to visiting nurses for essential medical care. In addition to sustaining those results (there continue to be no evictions related to non-payment of rent since the introduction of peer support) through year two, FSPS has also demonstrated success in assisting individuals who live in other locations or are homeless. 33 people have been permanently housed, 60 were assisted to access appropriate shelters (including homeless and domestic violence shelters), 20 were supported to enter substance abuse-related residential programs, and several others who were struggling to apply Federal Section 8 vouchers due to housing discrimination were supported to do so successfully.