Ending Homelessness

Homelessness is actually very simple to solve: give homeless people homes. Done. This is what’s known as the Housing First philosophy: housing the homeless is not only the most humane approach to homelessness. Utah has had huge success giving homes to the homeless:

Precious few places have had the nerve to fully implement a Housing First policy, though hundreds of cities have drawn up the plans. But the approach has been successful in Utah, where chronic homelessness is down 91 per cent over the past decade, and where rapid rehousing programmes have housed thousands of newly homeless veterans and families quickly and cheaply. To the surprise of every self-described progressive, Utah has emerged as a model for municipal programs around the country.

It turns out that Housing First’s effectiveness also extends economically, which probably surprises a lot of people:

Homelessness has always been more a crisis of empathy and imagination than one of sheer economics. Governments spend millions each year on shelters, health care and other forms of triage for the homeless, but simply giving people homes turns out to be far cheaper, according to research from the University of Washington in 2009. Preventing a fire always requires less water than extinguishing it once it’s burning.

What about Canada? All I could discover is that the Green Party is committed to ending homelessness, calling the housing shortage amongst indigenous peoples a scandal. And Medicine Hat has implemented Housing First to great success: they report that there are no chronically homeless people in the city.

The city’s mayor, Ted Clugston, said that while it’s been a challenge to convince his conservative constituents — “We consider ourselves independent. You work hard…So if you want a place to live, you pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” he told The Tyee. — conservative politicians support Housing First because it’s a money-saving initiative in the long run.

The stability of a home means fewer costly trips to hospitals and interactions with police and the courts as well as taking shelters out of the equation. The Alberta government reported it can cost over $100,000 annually to support a chronically homeless person while “under Housing First, it costs less than $35,000 per year to provide permanent housing and the supports they need to break the cycle of homelessness.”

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