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Health & Human Services News

Homeless Initiative Working

The Chronic Homeless Program is a workgroup of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee and is responsible for implementing a Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. By sharing, applying, and tracking groundbreaking strategies, the workgroup seeks to make a permanent and measurable difference in homelessness in Asheville and Buncombe County. So far, the initiative has reduced taxpayer costs and has a 90% success rate of placing the homeless in housing.

Using a “housing first model,” the program houses chronically homeless persons. Many people served by this program struggle with physical and mental health problems.  Some common experiences shared by people living with chronic homelessness are:

  • Asheville-Buncombe Homeless InitiativeInpatient hospitalization in the past 2 years.
  • Incarcerated in the past 5 years.
  • Living with HIV or other chronic disease.
  • Used emergency room in past 2 years.
  • Mental illness and/or substance abuse.
  • Probation record in past 3 years.

The Chronic Homeless Program workgroup’s primary partners are the Asheville Housing Authority, Homeward Bound, Western Highlands, Mission Health, and Buncombe County. The Asheville Housing Authority applies the “disability preference” option to move eligible persons from this target group to the top of the waiting list for apartments in public housing or Housing Choice vouchers, which are used to access apartments in the private market. A requirement of acceptance into the program is ongoing case management. The Housing Authority, Homeward Bound, Western Highlands, Mission Health and Buncombe County (via contract) contribute case management resources.

In 2012, the Homeless Initiative sponsored a “Hard-to-House Summit,” bringing in State and national consultants to help us identify new strategies to increase supported housing for the most challenging chronic home persons, who have often failed in previous attempts to house.

FUSE Groups

FUSE stands for “Frequent User Systems Engagement,” a national evidence-based model for identifying the highest cost, highest need persons–and then multiple community organizations collaborate to develop and track a common service plan. FUSE groups meet regularly at the Buncombe County Detention Facility, Homeward Bound, and Mission Hospital.

What Are the Results?

Using the results of a local UNC study (“The Cost Effectiveness of Housing Support Teams, UNC-CH School of Social Work, 2007”) in Buncombe County costs dropped from $11,236 before enrollment to $7,651 after. By “working the list” of these so-called frequent-user homeless persons, since April 2010, the Program has placed 120 persons in housing, with a 90% success rate. An average of almost 3 chronically homeless persons are placed into supported housing each month. Savings = $3,585 times 108 clients, or $387,180. This includes the increased costs for mental health and substance abuse treatment once the client is in stable housing.

For more information, contact David Nash of the Housing Authority, City of Asheville, at