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.

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