Preventing A Return To Homelessness

Since opening its doors in 2006, Justa Center has placed over 2,400 individuals in permanent housing. While it is always exciting to see our core mission leading to transformed lives for those who have been homeless, our success has also come with unexpected consequences. Those whom we placed several years ago have continued "aging in place," but sometimes their physical and mental health has deteriorated to the point where their care needs have become more comprehensive. In some cases, their health has deterioriated to the point where they have returned to homelessness.
We at Justa Center are looking more closely at this trend, which is why we are working diligently to extend our current aftercare services into a more comprehensive care program. Our immediate goal is to identify these needs early enough to be able to create an appropriate wrap-around intervention, which would give our members the opportunity to age in place rather than having to endure multiple hospital visits, risk losing their home, and end up back on the streets.
Recently the need for this service was brought home to us in a very personal way. Elizabeth (pictured above) first came to Justa Center in December 2012 at the age of 56. She struggled with numerous health issues, including lung cancer, diabetes, and various respiratory problems. She was in a wheelchair due to the extremely poor condition of her feet as a result of living on the streets with uncontrolled diabetes.
Elizabeth also lacked health insurance, which compromised her ability to get adequate health care. She was forced to use the emergency room when her condition required it, and from there, she would be placed in the hospital for stabilization and then returned to the streets. This was a cycle that Elizabeth lived with for the entire time we knew her.
Elizabeth's ONLY income was monthly food stamps. One of the first things we did was try to establish additional revenue for her through Social Security Disability. This proved to be an endless cycle of application, denial, and appeal. During the course of this time-consuming process Elizabeth was unable to obtain any income, which in turn meant that she was forced to stay in the shelter. In spite of the multiple setbacks that Elizabeth endured, she was always smiling and showing concern for others, including staff. She would even donate her things to others whom she felt were needier than she was. Elizabeth worked hard to get out of homelessness, and finally through a program run by the City of Phoenix, she was able to move into her own apartment last November. Sadly, several weeks later, she was found unconscious, and after being transported to the hospital, she passed away.
Elizabeth's last months were a struggle for her, and we were not able to fully address her needs. Her life, however, was not in vain, as her circumstances have challenged us to ensure this doesn't happen again.