New Strategies Tackle Chronic Homelessness.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are over 610,000 people who experience homelessness on a given night. Within this population, 23 percent are children and over 57,000 are veterans.
Some laws have been enacted that punitively address this issue—from criminalizing sleeping in public spaces to banning organizations from serving meals in a park. Anti-homeless ‘spikes’ have even been installed in front of urban storefronts and luxury apartments to prevent people from sleeping in the area.
Fortunately there is another idea that is gaining more traction. Housing First is a movement that focuses on immediately providing the chronically homeless with a home or apartment. This is in contrast to the more traditional model, Continuum of Care, which transitions people from the streets to a shelter to a housing program and then into their own place, with other strings attached. The philosophy of Housing First is that people experiencing homelessness need a home first in order to stabilize other areas of their life such as a finding a job, getting education, or tackling substance abuse.
In Utah, the state calculated the costs associated with homelessness which arise from trips to the hospital as well as jail stints. Working with an estimated $11,000 for a home and a case worker, they figured out that this was the more economic route. Home recipients are encouraged to become completely self-sufficient, but even if they don’t (some face substance or mental health issues that may prevent this) they still get to keep their place. Utah has seen their homeless rate reduced by 78 percent and is aiming to end homelessness throughout the state by 2015.
Also using the Housing First system, 100,000 Homes has enrolled 238 communities throughout the U.S. The campaign partners with local agencies and volunteers which begin the process by going into the streets to get to know the homeless population. A database is then compiled and the most vulnerable are identified in order to be prioritized for housing. As in Utah, they also cite this model as money saving and though approximately 15 percent of those given houses do not work out in the long-term, the organization has recently attained its goal of housing 100,000 people. One of those reached, Mallyveen Teah now has an apartment and a job in construction. He says, "Something as simple as giving a person a set of keys to their own place makes a huge difference in terms of their outlook on life, the world." Other cities, nationally and even internationally are now looking to this model to help their community’s homeless populations.