Program marries shelters, services for homeless 

The success of an innovative trial program — one which will celebrate its second anniversary in the county Thursday — stands to change the historic division between homeless shelters and substance abuse/mental health services.

Since opening in 2005, Helping Alcoholics and Addicts Learn to Overcome has increased the number of homeless people at two shelter locations who have found housing, work and have stayed off drugs, according to Catherine Barber, a spokeswoman with the county’s Human Services Agency.

"For me, the best thing is that HAALO gives me tools for dealing with everyday life," said Patricia, 44, a recovering methamphetamine user and HAALO client who asked that her last name not be used for fear it would hurt her chances to find a job.

What makes HAALO — and similar pilot programs being funded by the federal government across the county — somewhat novel is that up until recently the differing areas of professional expertise and funding streams kept shelter and treatment services from working together, Rawley said.

Clients of the program — which operates out of Shelter Network homeless shelters in Redwood City and South San Francisco — can receive as much as six months free board in dormitory-style housing, on the condition they find a job, save money, attend classes and stay off drugs.

Out of 88 clients surveyed six months after their successful discharge, 37 had jobs or were attending school, compared with 16 when they entered. Thirteen had established permanent housing, compared to two upon entry, and 52 remained off alcohol and drugs, compared with 21 reporting abstinence when they entered, according to HAALO data.

A total of 160 clients have been admitted to the $2 million, five-year trial. Funded by a federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment grant, county officials anticipate 450 people will be served by 2010. The program has proven so successful that HAALO staff is already working with federal administrators to maintain the program when the grant expires, said Ann Rawley, clinical services director for HAALO.

Patricia, who used to consider herself a "functional addict," was arrested for meth possession in San Mateo in March. Now she’s working to get her life back on track. HAALO provides her temporary housing and substance abuse classes, but also counseling on how to steer away from old friends and situations that are likely to lead to trouble, she said.

There are also chances to take classes on résumé writing and communication skills, important for finding work, she said.

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