How ‘Housing First’ Reduces Homelessness And Saves Money

Today Vermont Public Radio highlighted the Housing First program and Pathways VT, which provides these services in Vermont. Below is an excerpt from their coverage, which discusses how the program helps to permanently house the chronically homeless while saving a great deal of money in the end:

“We have a long history in this country of trying to support people to get better in order to get housing,” Melton explained. “It’s a kind of staircase analogy of moving from streets into shelters, from shelters into transitional housing to treatment programs and finally into permanent housing. We’ve found over the years that in fact that model does not work, and the results and the research that has followed — it’s two decades worth of research — has shown that what ends homelessness is housing.”

Housing First skips that staircase and simply moves a person into permanent housing. Once that person is housed, the Housing First model gives them services tailored to the person’s needs, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment. “That’s the most effective bang for our dollar to support people to get out of this horrible cycle of homelessness.”

“If you’re living on the street, it’s impossible to get better and do the things that people are asking that you do. And for people who are challenged by homelessness, there’s sleep deprivation, not knowing where you’re going to be, that kind of pressure that being homeless brings onto a person is enormous,” Melton explained. Once a person is housed, they’re in a better position to work on those problems, and there’s evidence that people do the best when they are in a community-based setting, especially if they’ve been able to have some input into the kind of community they want to live in.

Melton said while Housing First is more effective than the staircase approach to housing, the reason it’s been embraced nationally, internationally and by Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Veterans Administration and the Interagency Council on Homelessness is because it costs less.

Pathways Vermont started in Vermont as a five year grant program. Among the data is a cohort of 129 people. In the six months after those individuals started with Pathways Vermont, the amount of money spent on those people dropped by over $1 million from what was spent in the six months before they were housed.

“The prisons cost dropped from $700,000 to $200,000. The hotel costs went from $55,000 to $43,000, the $1 million for psychiatric hospitalization dropped to $1,500. So a million dollars on psychiatric hospitalization, versus $1,500 on people living in the community,” Melton emphasized. “How can we not look at those numbers and make decisions based on those numbers? We’re already spending an enormous amount of money on the same population, and we can do it better cheaper.”

Pathways Vermont uses a scattered site model for housing, working with landlords in communities all around Vermont. In five years, the program has housed 250 people, 160 of those were considered chronically homeless. Melton said they couldn’t do it with the hundreds of local landlords who are willing to take a chance by housing people without credit and rental history.

To read the entire article and listen to the audio from VPR click here.

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