County launches ‘Pay for Success’ programs in attempt to cut back on homelessness, incarceration (Salt Lake Tribune)

By MIKE GORRELL

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams' grand plan is ready to roll — a new approach to finding housing for the homeless and keeping men with drug or mental-health problems from recycling in and out of jail.

McAdams formally launched two "Pay for Success" programs Monday, proclaiming that if they succeed as he expects, the county could be opening a "new frontier in the delivery of homeless services" with the potential to "reshape social-services delivery in America."

The county has committed $11.5 million to attack these two "long-running challenges," anticipating that the funding will help 550 hard-pressed individuals to straighten out their lives.

"These are people in crisis, in need of help — and people we can help," McAdams said, adding that "we can save tax dollars in the process."

The savings, he said, will come from getting people stabilized before they get into the criminal justice system or have to rely on the homeless shelter for housing — both of which are expensive.

The program's name stems from the idea that the county will make payments from that $11.5 million account only when work done by two nonprofit providers — The Road Home and First Step House — succeed in helping individual clients meet established goals.

When they're met, the county will release funds to repay the private investors and philanthropic organizations that have bought into the approach and pledged to pay the upfront costs of getting them going.

"I really believe in this," said investor James L. Sorenson, of the Sorenson Impact Center, "because it drives resources to high-quality programs grounded in research and rigorously tests those programs to find out the outcomes they're really having."

It will work like this:

Over the next four years, The Road Home is looking to help 315 people characterized as persistently homeless — having spent 90 to 364 days over the prior year in an emergency shelter or on the streets — to get housing, behavioral-health treatment and employment counseling.

"We're looking to create a level playing field for someone coming out of the shelter," said Road Home Executive Director Matt Minkevitch.

"We'll provide rental subsidies to drive down the cost of housing so they can have a greater degree of economic stability and thoughtful case management, helping them troubleshoot along the way," he added.

What constitutes success?

For one, if there's a 27.2 percent reduction in the amount of time clients cumulatively spend in jail or in the shelter over the next two years, the county will pay $3,500 per day avoided.

Another would have the county pay $5,000 per client if The Road Home can enroll 100 percent of its clients in substance-abuse or mental-health treatment programs.

First Step House will manage a program known by the acronym REACH (Recovery, Engagement, Assessment, Career and Housing) with the goal of reducing the number of times high-risk men are arrested and how much time they spend behind bars. Its other goal is to help clients get jobs.

"I'm excited because we've never had the funding stream to bring all the pieces together in one program," said Shawn McMillen, First Step House's executive director, addressing the "criminogenic factors that contribute to recidivism and the problems that contribute to individuals' lives not working. We want to demonstrate the work we do has impact."

How will First Step do that?

If the 225 formerly incarcerated males in the program are arrested and spend a third fewer days in jail than the county projects they would over the next four years, then reimbursements would be made on a per capita basis to the investors.

And if 66 percent of the clients take part in 200 hours of behavioral-health treatment within six months of enrollment, the county would pay back $5,800 per such participant.

"Over $800 billion is spent at the federal level on social services," Sorenson noted. "Imagine what could be achieved if those dollars were measured and tied to outcomes."

Minkevitch also offered praise for those who will seek the forthcoming aid.

"I thank those living on the street or in the shelter, thirsting to get out of this desperate situation and into a more stable one," he said. "We'll do our part to help people succeed. There is a better way than living in a shelter."

mikeg@sltrib.com