In the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine, the financial page highlights the Housing First program. Author James Surowiecki explains how programs like Housing First and Rapid Rehousing have significant economic benefits. At the end of the article he states “The success of Housing First points to a new way of thinking about social programs: what looks like a giveaway may actually be a really wise investment.”
An excerpt from the article is below:
Housing First isn’t just cost-effective. It’s more effective, period. The old model assumed that before you could put people into permanent homes you had to deal with their underlying issues—get them to stop drinking, take their medication, and so on. Otherwise, it was thought, they’d end up back on the streets. But it’s ridiculously hard to get people to make such changes while they’re living in a shelter or on the street. “If you move people into permanent supportive housing first, and then give them help, it seems to work better,” Nan Roman, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Homelessness, told me. “It’s intuitive, in a way. People do better when they have stability.” Utah’s first pilot program placed seventeen people in homes scattered around Salt Lake City, and after twenty-two months not one of them was back on the streets. In the years since, the number of Utah’s chronically homeless has fallen by seventy-four per cent.
Of course, the chronically homeless are only a small percentage of the total homeless population. Most homeless people are victims of economic circumstances or of a troubled family environment, and are homeless for shorter stretches of time. The challenge, particularly when it comes to families with children, is insuring that people don’t get trapped in the system. And here, too, the same principles have been used, in an approach called Rapid Rehousing: the approach is to quickly put families into homes of their own, rather than keep them in shelters or transitional housing while they get housing-ready. The economic benefits of keeping people from getting swallowed by the shelter system can be immense: a recent Georgia study found that a person who stayed in an emergency shelter or transitional housing was five times as likely as someone who received rapid rehousing to become homeless again.