Some places are actually solving homelessness, but not in the way you’d think

AJ+
AJ+
Feb 5, 2016 · 4 min read
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Photo by Shwanika Narayan

By Alexia Underwood

San Francisco’s plan to “clean up their streets” —or remove people who are living on the streets from public view in advance of the Super Bowl — is not uncommon. It’s a frequent, if controversial, practice before major sports events and celebrations. There is one thing that it isn’t, though: a permanent solution to the problem of homelessness.

There are places in the U.S., however, that say they have found the answer to this seemingly intractable issue. All have used some variation of “Housing First,” a strategy that supplies homeless people with heavily subsidized permanent housing, with no preconditions.

The idea is simple: People who are homeless or chronically homeless have a primary need, which is to find stable housing. Once that’s taken care of, they can focus on dealing with other problems, like mental illness, physical disabilities and addiction. Studies have shown that housing the homeless is actually cheaper than letting them remain on the street due to the high cost of jail stays and emergency room visits. The Housing First strategy offers support and assistance to chronically homeless individuals once they have a permanent, safe place to live. Here are a few of the places that say they’ve eradicated chronic homelessness, and how they did it.

Utah

Phoenix

Houston

New Orleans

The simplicity of this approach — giving people access to permanent housing, which then allows them to focus on other things, like dealing with mental illness and addiction — seems almost too obvious. But there are still lots of obstacles: Not all cities are willing to commit the funds, not all cities have the space to house their homeless populations and political infighting prevents some cities from focusing on one cohesive strategy like Housing First. And it’s important to remember that ending homelessness for specific communities, like veterans or the chronically homeless, still leaves tens of thousands of people on the streets. So is Housing First a catch-all remedy? Probably not. But its success has inspired other cities to experiment with how they combat homelessness, with intriguing results. In the end, the success of Housing First shows us that rethinking our established policies — and treating people with dignity and respect — can go a long way toward finding sustainable solutions.

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Photo by Shwanika Narayan

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