According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Housing First is an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing homeless people with housing quickly and then providing services as needed. What differentiates a Housing First approach from traditional emergency shelter or transitional housing approaches is that it is “housing-based,” with an immediate and primary focus on helping individuals and families quickly access and sustain permanent housing.
Michigan People's ActionThis approach has the benefit of being consistent with what most people experiencing homelessness want and seek help to achieve. Housing First programs share critical elements:
There is a focus on helping individuals and families access and sustain permanent rental housing as quickly as possible and the housing is not time-limited;
A variety of services are delivered primarily following a housing placement to promote housing stability and individual well-being;
Such services are time-limited or long-term depending upon individual need; and
Housing is not contingent on compliance with services – instead, participants must comply with a standard lease agreement and are provided with the services and supports that are necessary to help them do so successfully.
Rationale for Housing First
Cities across the nation are finding out just how costly the chronically homeless can be to a community. The costs are much more than the meals, shelter and supportive services typically consumed by the homeless. Rather, the cities are finding the major costs are in healthcare and in public safety.
Healthcare costs are higher because the homeless are statistically far more likely to use the local emergency room, hospital and nursing care than those who have a stable place to live. The health service provider rarely receives reimbursement for such services and thus, must pass the cost on to the community.
Public safety costs (which include police, court, legal and incarceration costs) are higher because the homeless spend large amounts of time on the streets, where they are statistically more often ticketed and arrested than those in a stable living environment. This significantly contributes to increased public safety costs especially incarceration costs which can run to $50,000 per year for a person is prison.
Many cities have found that Housing First is a very effective way for decreasing these cost. By first providing subsidized housing for the chronically homeless, and then offering supportive services, cities have seen substantial drops in the homeless healthcare and public safety costs. In fact, after subsidized housing costs are added in, the total cost to the community decreases approximately $10,000 to $40,000 per year for each homeless person served! These statistics are well documented and can be found on the internet by searching for Housing First.
As our economy further plummets, we are going to see a major increase in the number of homeless. This will amplify healthcare and public safety costs. If we truly want to decrease costs, we must find a way of funding sufficient subsidized housing so that Housing First can be implemented on a large scale. Once implemented, communities will see a drop in healthcare and public safety costs which will more than cover the initial housing costs for a net savings of $10,000 to $40,000 per year per homeless person.
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