People who are chronically homeless tend to have mental health or substance abuse issues which prevent them from being in stable living conditions. The general consensus has been that a person must be dealing with the causes which led to their homelessness before providing permanent housing. Taking medication and being in treatment for substance abuse were thought to be the first steps in progressing towards the goal of permanent housing.
Several cities and states have initiated programs which place the homeless immediately into permanent housing and then move to address the reasons for their previous homelessness. The quantifiable results are illuminating. Utah initiated such a program, called Housing First, in 2005. The average cost of taking care of a homeless person went from more than $20,000 a year to $8,000. In Colorado, the cost went from $43,000 a year to $17,000. Shelters, emergency room visits, ambulances, law enforcement associated with homelessness are very expensive. Asking someone to stop drinking or using drugs or making sure someone is taking their medication are very difficult changes to make in an unstable living environment. By providing someone with housing stability, it is much less expensive to maintain life style changes required to end the cycle of chronic homelessness.
Not only is this model cost effective. It is also effective period. In Salt Lake City, where the first pilot program was initiated in Utah, 17 people where housed. Twenty-two months later, all of the pilot group were still in their homes. Since 2005, Utah’s chronic homeless population has fallen by 74 percent.
In the case of people who are homeless for economic reasons or due to family problems, which groups make up the majority of the homeless population, finding housing for them as quickly as possible, a program known as rapid rehousing, had the same results. People who had to be housed in shelters, in transitional housing or who found themselves living in their cars or in tents take longer to find permanent housing than those who found permanent housing right away. A state of Georgia study found that a person who was not rehoused permanently right away was five time more likely to become homeless again.
Housing First and rapid rehousing have been instituted in hundreds of cities around the country, saving money for taxpayers and reducing the numbers of homeless. Isn’t it great to hear about government programs that actually save money?