Fighting homelessness by giving homeless people houses

A program in Salt Lake City decided that it would be smarter -- and more humane -- to spend $11K/year each to house 17 chronically homeless people and provide them with social workers than it would be to waste the average of $16,670/year per person to imprison them and treat them at emergency rooms. As Nation of Change points out, this commonsense, humane and economically sound way of dealing with homelessness works, unlike the savage approaches taken by other cities (like the Waikiki rep Tom Bowker who smashed homeless peoples' carts with a sledgehammer, or cities like Tampa, which banned feeding homeless people).

Here's more on Utah's Housing First program.

Utah started a pilot program that took 17 people in Salt Lake City who had spent an average of 25 years on the street and put them in apartments. Caseworkers were assigned to help them become self-sufficient, but there were no strings attached – if they failed, the participants still had a place to live.

The “Housing First” program’s goal was to end chronic homelessness in Utah within 10 years. Through 2012, it had helped reduce the 2,000 people in that category when it began by 74 percent. Lloyd Pendleton, director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, said the state is on track to meet its goal by 2015, and become the first state in the nation to do so.

...There’s no question that providing housing for the homeless is the right thing to do, for humanitarian reasons. But it also makes economic sense, so cities can spend less money and still help more people. In 2005, Utah did a study that found the average annual cost for emergency services and jail time for each chronically homeless person was $16,670. The cost to house them and provide case management services was only $11,000 per person.

Wyoming can give homeless a place to live, and save money [Kerry Drake/Wyofile]

(Image: Homeless Encampment, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from editor's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. My second* "if I won the Powerball" fantasy would be to build "Motel 6" type places, with a kitchen counter retrofitted in each room, in a few cities with lots of homeless veterans. Allocate a half-dozen rooms on the first floor to services: Rent free offices where doctors, dentists, counselors and the like can do pro bono work. Pay the insurance and taxes for five years and turn it over to a veterans aid group.

    If it didn't work out, the place could be turned into an actual motel.

    *First is science teacher education scholarships.

  2. While this solution does seem to be "humane and economically sound" in the short term, I wonder what happens to the near-homeless community when free housing becomes available to the most desperate. Is there a rush to the bottom? I know it sounds jaded, but if I were desperately struggling to pay the rent and I imagined, even inaccurately, that homeless people were receiving free housing and care, it might weaken my resolve.

  3. Fighting homelessness by giving homeless people houses

    Well, duh.

  4. Ygret says:

    That's because you are not in that position and you've never lived in public housing.

    Why do people insist on playing "what if" scenarios with things that demand more than the attention of your phantom fears and an excruciatingly limited knowledge of the subjects requiring mastery in order to assess such questions.

    And heaven forbid someone gets some free rent! OMG! Earth ending, right winger heads exploding!

    Of course wingnuts sleep soundly knowing the bankers have tanked the entire economy for half a decade and counting. But heaven forbid a homeless person, or a "near homeless" person, should catch a break once in a while.

    You sound like the classic prig who insists we chop off hands for stealing candy but ripping off an entire nation is just fine.

    Are you a paid troll, or is this really a concern of yours?

  5. Actually, I have this fantasy that with the exception of a small number of people who will always be happy with very little, most people want more from life, and will work to get it. I remember listening to a This American Life episode about immigrants acclimating to life in America. One Iraqi either called the police or the people who were helping him immigrate to report a homeless person. To him, this was an emergency. How can someone not have a place to stay?

    That's because, in Iraq, if you can't pay rent it would be unthinkable that you would be cast out into the street. Your landlord is expected to work with you as much as possible. Part of homelessness is cultural, the idea that it's okay. I don't think it's okay. Another big part is a lack of commitment to solving the problem. Commitment means money, money means taxes, taxes mean controversy. Some people don't feel there's a binding collective duty here, and leave the matter to charity. I feel that in an industrialized society where most land is private and laws prevent the acquisition of basic necessities from the natural world, we cannot pretend that the homeless exists in a vacuum.

    Some part of the way we govern our affairs as a society makes it impossible for people to find homes. We owe it to them. There was a period in history where if you didn't have a thatched hut, you walked a few yards and built one. We can't do that anymore, that's not the world we live in.

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