Addressing People's Housing Needs Changes Lives and Saves Taxpayers Money

By Alex Sanders, February 8, 2014 - 10:42am

To many Americans, homelessness can feel like a problem so big it can't be helped. Perhaps you've always wanted to help but wondered where to start...

(Photo: Helmut was in his eighties and had spent years on the streets when Hollywood4WRD, the Hollywood, CA team participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, moved him into permanent housing. Credit: JB Rutagarama)

To many Americans, homelessness can feel like a problem so big it can't be helped. Perhaps you've always wanted to help but wondered where to start...

For years, homeless service providers tried to offer street-based medical and mental health care, addiction counseling, job training and countless other services to people experiencing homelessness in an effort to make them "ready for housing."

Unfortunately, very few of the sickest, most longterm homeless Americans escaped the streets this way, and even fewer successfully addressed the health and social conditions that street-based supportive services were designed to address.

Organizations participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign have carefully evaluated the evidence, and they are committed to a different approach. These communities have decided that treatment and supportive services should not be conditions or precursors to permanent housing. Instead, the very ability to address personal mental health goals, beat addiction and gain stable employment stems from the safety and stability that comes from having a permanent home.  

By moving people directly into permanent housing and then continuing to work to address their health, mental health and employment needs, 100,000 Homes communities have successfully moved more than 80,000 homeless Americans off the streets for good, including more than 23,000 homeless veterans.

Countless studies have now shown that we must offer housing first, not last, if we want to help people out of homelessness. This bipartisan, evidence-based approach became federal policy under President George W. Bush and has been expanded under the Obama Administration.

Housing first is a simple, highly effective approach to ending chronic homelessness that emphasizes providing homeless people with permanent housing right away and then offering other services as needed. This approach was invented and pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis, the founder of Pathways to Housing, in New York City in the late 1990s and soon adopted by the federal government and many state, local and non-profit agencies. In contrast to less effective, more traditional models, housing first does not force homeless people to complete or comply with treatment, mental health care, employment training or other services in order to access and maintain permanent housing. Instead, it rests on the evidence-based view that stable housing puts people in a better position to benefit voluntarily from these services over time.

Housing first approaches can ensure that roughly 85 percent of homeless individuals remain stably housed, even among individuals and families dealing with severe substance abuse and mental health conditions. The bottom line is that it is just too difficult to battle addiction, take care of serious physical and mental health conditions or find steady employment while simultaneously battling homelessness. Housing-based approaches have proven much more successful in helping people address these secondary issues.
Studies also show that Housing first approaches involving permanent supportive housing tend to be much cheaper for taxpayers than allowing people to remain homeless since homeless individuals with the highest needs often use expensive, publicly funded services like emergency rooms, shelters and jails.

This approach has a documented track record of ending people’s homelessness while often encouraging them to make their own choices to get healthy, quit drugs and alcohol, and find employment when possible.

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