Housing First

An article in The New Yorker looks at a more effective approach to dealing with chronic homelessness:

In 2005, Utah set out to fix a problem that’s often thought of as unfixable: chronic homelessness. The state had almost two thousand chronically homeless people. Most of them had mental-health or substance-abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to try to make homeless people “housing ready”: first, you got people into shelters or halfway houses and put them into treatment; only when they made progress could they get a chance at permanent housing. Utah, though, embraced a different strategy, called Housing First: it started by just giving the homeless homes…

…Housing First has saved the government money. Homeless people are not cheap to take care of. The cost of shelters, emergency-room visits, ambulances, police, and so on quickly piles up. Lloyd Pendleton, the director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, told me of one individual whose care one year cost nearly a million dollars, and said that, with the traditional approach, the average chronically homeless person used to cost Salt Lake City more than twenty thousand dollars a year. Putting someone into permanent housing costs the state just eight thousand dollars, and that’s after you include the cost of the case managers who work with the formerly homeless to help them adjust. The same is true elsewhere. A Colorado study found that the average homeless person cost the state forty-three thousand dollars a year, while housing that person would cost just seventeen thousand dollars.

Here in the Triad the Greensboro-based Partners Ending Homelessness started a Housing First initiative in February, 2014:

Partners Ending Homelessness, a partner agency of United Way of Greater Greensboro, says the “Housing First” initiative it launched in February is providing access to stable housing to 28 formerly homeless households.

The initiative by the agency, a collaborative effort that includes 80 community partners, was funded in 2013 with a $1 million grant from the Phillips Foundation to address the needs of the chronically homeless.

The agency says it needs to secure roughly $2.5 million over the next four years from public and private sources to expand the program.

The effort in Greensboro is already paying dividends:

The early results reflect the experiences of the first five participants in the year before joining the program and in the six months after joining program.

In addition to paying for a consultant who has worked with other communities, the money has been used to develop an Assertive Community Treatment Team for long-term housing support and case management, the highest level of mental health service available short of hospitalization.

“Although $1 million seems like we are spending a lot of money, the statistics are showing we are saving a lot of money,” said the Rev. Mike Aiken of Greensboro Urban Ministry, one of the partners in Ending Homelessness.

“People are being housed and supported. We were absolutely sold on it.”

The number of emergency room visits also dropped, from eight to none. The cost of housing these people dropped from $30,650 in shelters to $8,927 in rent for their new homes. And the number of nights spent in jail dropped from 28 to none.

Slow Reading

The September 16, 2014 issue of the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the “slow reading” movement:

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

What’s interesting is that slow reading isn’t just about relaxing, it’s also about better comprehension and learning because it seems that our digital-intense lives are turning us into a bunch of scatterbrained wrecks.

One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Slow reading means a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. 

In something of a side note there was this little tidbit about folks who read fiction:

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships.

Come to think of it this helps explain some of the people I know who only read “serious” stuff like biographies of obscure roman generals or 1,200 page studies of minor Civil War skirmishes.

Walking With Purpose

I read Scott Sexton’s column about Ken Glazener with great interest because Mr. Glazener walks by my house just about every day and unfortunately I knew nothing about him other than:

  1. He walks alot
  2. He picks up a lot of trash which he totes back to his house
  3. I’m pretty sure he lives in the subdivision behind my house because when he returns from his walks he usually takes the road by our house back into the subdivision.

Other than that I knew nothing about him even though I’d seen him for years. Now I know what he’s been up to:

Most days, he walks upwards of 10 miles along Forsyth County roads with an equally scruffy dog by his side, carrying a plastic grocery bag that he fills with discarded cans and bottles…

Glazener is a retired dentist, “not rich but comfortable,” he said, while recounting one of the many times a kind stranger approached to offer a few bucks for a hot meal…

Some days he starts his walk with a plastic bag in his pocket. Others, he figures (correctly) he’ll find one that’s been tossed and he’ll use it. He recycles bottles and saves aluminum cans until he has enough – 200 or so pounds – to rate a trip to OmniSource, a scrap metal yard off U.S. 52 across town.

“I bet I get 300 cans a week,” he said. “Unfortunately most of them are beer cans. If I thought people were drinking them at home, sobering up and then leaving to throw them out on the roadside I’d be wrong. It’s scary to think about.”

The money he gets for the cans, a few hundred bucks a year, he sends to a scholarship fund he set up at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.

Since our house fronts one of the roads that Mr. Glazener travels I can attest to the fact that most of the bottles/cans discarded from passing cars contained an adult beverage before they were tossed. For 10 years I’ve been finding empty bottles of a certain brand of vodka and more empty PBR cans than I can even count in the ditch in front of our house. It’s disheartening to know that some of our neighbors are boozing it up behind the wheel and that they have such terrible taste.

Next time I see him I hope to thank Mr. Glazener for his service and for being smart enough to do his community service while also getting some great exercise. Let’s just say he doesn’t look close to the age, 71 years old, that’s mentioned in the article.

Be Part of the Smithsonian Crowdsource

Here’s a pretty cool volunteer opportunity with the Smithsonian:

The Smithsonian Institution has followed the crowdsourcing crowd, with the opening of an online transcription center allowing members of the public to help decipher thousands of digitized pages of Civil War diaries, botanical labels, correspondence and other documents that cannot be easily read by a computer.

Over the past year of beta testing a team of volunteers has transcribed more than 13,000 pages of documents, including personal correspondence of the so-called Monuments Men; the 1948 diary of Earl Shaffer, believed to be the first man to hike the entire Appalachian Trail; a 19th-century ballooning scrapbook; and a significant portion of the tiny labels in the National Museum of Natural History’s collection of nearly 45,000 bumblebee specimens.

Now the Smithsonian is hoping the broader public will help transcribe, among other highlighted projects, the field notebooks of the Virginia bird-watcher James W. Eike; the research notebooks of Joseph Henry, a physicist and the Smithsonian’s first secretary; and a collection of letters from American artists to be included in the coming book “The Art of Handwriting.”

Fixing Tennis?

I love tennis, both watching and playing it, which is why Scott Adams’ suggestions for fixing it in his Sports are Broken post caught my attention:

For example, when tennis was invented, serving was just a way to start the rally. One player bunted the ball into the service box and it was on.

Fast-forward to 2014.

Now the pros are 6’8″, their rackets and strings are made from exotic materials, and they are trained to serve at 140 miles per hour. As you might imagine, that creates a lot of double-faults and aces. Both are boring.

To fix tennis, eliminate the serve. That is already happening where I live. A group of folks in my town already play without the serve. Under the no-serve rules either player can start the rally and the point is live on the third hit. You play to 21, win by two, so no more funky tennis scoring with the 15-30-40 ridiculousness. This version of tennis is about twice as fun as playing serve-and-miss while wishing you were getting some exercise.

As someone who relies heavily on his serve this would not be good for me – when I’m practicing with guys at the same level as me and we play games that don’t involve serving I lose more often than I win – but I tend to agree with his assessment. I also really like the first to 21, win by two, idea. That rewards fitness due to less breaks in the action and helps reduce the likelihood of losing to someone who hits a hot streak like you see in regular seven- or ten-point tiebreakers.

On another note, even if we keep the serve I think the “let” call should be eliminated as John McEnroe has suggested in the past. That will speed up play and add an element of adventure to points just as regular net cord shots do.

Even if the pros don’t do it I think amateur play would be greatly enhanced by these kinds of changes.

Getting a Ride for Gaming

We’ve become accustomed to the idea of people getting college scholarships for playing games like basketball, football, soccer, etc. but we’re probably going to have to adjust to the idea of people getting scholarships for playing video games:

Robert Morris University, a small, accredited private school whose main campus is in downtown Chicago, has taken a different tack—boosting the number of athletic scholarships to more than 700, from 150 a decade ago, in a bid to stem declining enrollment…

Kurt Melcher, the Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris, dreamed up the idea of a videogame scholarship this past spring when he came across a game called “League of Legends,” Mr. Bensema’s specialty. The online game of strategy and teamwork pits teams of five players against one another in a battle for domination that is sort of like a high-speed digital version of capture the flag.

“I just couldn’t believe how elaborate it was,” said Mr. Melcher…

In October, the League of Legends world championships drew 32 million viewers online. An additional 18,000 fans packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch two teams of five skinny young men click away on their mice—as the game played out on huge screens overhead. When a player died, fans screamed as loudly as if Kobe Bryant had just launched himself from the free-throw line and thrown down a two-handed dunk…

In April, Mr. Melcher submitted a one-page proposal to field a League of Legends team. Two weeks later, the president’s council came back and said they wanted to offer 60 scholarships of up to 50% off tuition and room and board.

“We saw this as a chance to reach kids who might not have otherwise considered us,” said Provost Mablene Krueger. For the school, a significant short-term cost of the program is the new esports arena, a retrofitted classroom with 36 gaming stations that will cost the school about $100,000.

The school received a handful of responses when it posted the announcement on its website. Then the owners of Riot Games, which created League of Legends, posted it on the game’s website. Within 48 hours, the school got 2,200 inquiries from as far away as Gambia, in West Africa. Almost all of them were from males.

A few thoughts:

  • Holy crap, it’s still shocking for a guy like me – prototypical middle aged fantasy football dude – to see the numbers involved with video games. Of course it would make sense to create competitive teams to represent the school, for the same reason it makes sense (if it does) to field basketball and football teams.
  • I’d imagine that the demographic this will reach is an attractive one for schools. 
  • I wonder how long before we see this idea spreading to other schools, especially small schools that can’t afford the millions of dollars it takes to field a football team.
  • While we think of gamers as guys, because you know we don’t often think of girls sitting in the basement eating Cheetos while slaying some Russian kids avatar, there’s no real reason that you couldn’t have coed teams which helps alleviate any need for two teams to conform with Title IX requirements.

Totally selfish thought: if this idea takes off our youngest might be able to get a ride somewhere since he has some serious gaming skills.