How To House A Hundred Thousand

May 30 2014 @ 2:00pm

David Bornstein looks at how a campaign successfully placed 100,000 homeless Americans into permanent housing:

When I first reported on the 100,000 Homes Campaign in December 2010, it struck me as an audacious vision: the human welfare equivalent of the race to put a man on the moon. Was it achievable? …

[Campaign leaders] developed a kind of blueprint: Mobilize volunteers to get to know homeless people by name and need in the wee morning hours, prioritize certain homeless people based on a “vulnerability index,” bring housing advocates and agency representatives together to streamline the placement processes, and share ideas about how to cut through red tape. It worked. The question was: Could these innovations take root in cities across the country?

Apparently they have; Noelle Swan reports that the Housing First approach has led to a 17 percent decline in homelessness since 2005:

The new data come from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which sees the recent success as the “giant untold story of the homelessness world,” according to Stephen Berg, vice president of policy and programs. The shift comes as the prevailing wisdom that homeless individuals need to get a handle on other social problems in their lives before they can receive housing gives way to new thinking. In recent years, many states have started to flip that idea and have adopted what’s known as a “housing first” approach.

“Instead of trying to fix all the problems that homeless people have while they are homeless, [housing first] gets them into housing right away, then they end up taking care of a lot of other problems from a stable home,” Mr. Berg says.

And yet another study came out in support of the model just last week, finding that housing the homeless also saves money:

Late last week, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness released a new study showing that, when accounting for a variety of public expenses, Florida residents pay $31,065 per chronically homeless person every year they live on the streets. … The most recent count found 1,577 chronically homeless individuals living in three central Florida counties — Osceola, Seminole, and Orange, which includes Orlando. As a result, the region is paying nearly $50 million annually to let homeless people languish on the streets.

There is a far cheaper option though: giving homeless people housing and supportive services. The study found that it would cost taxpayers just $10,051 per homeless person to give them a permanent place to live and services like job training and health care. That figure is 68 percent less than the public currently spends by allowing homeless people to remain on the streets. If central Florida took the permanent supportive housing approach, it could save $350 million over the next decade.

Recent Dish on homelessness here, here, and here.