Housing First: A Proven Solution to End Chronic Homelessness
From the Fair Budget Coalition:
Thanks to Jean Badalamenti of Miriam’s Kitchen and the Housing Issue Committee for this post.
At the age of 72, Mr. G, sleeps outside each night, on the pavement, in bone-chilling cold, snow, rain, and in the sweltering DC summer heat. He grew up in a foster home, went to college, and was gainfully employed. It wasn’t until his untreated mental illness took hold of his life that he began experiencing homelessness. Now, Mr. G. in addition to his chronic health conditions, is dealing with the consequences of aging and showing the first signs of dementia, sometimes forgetting what was said in a conversation just five minutes later. Mr. G cannot wait for housing. Unfortunately, Mr. G’s story is not uncommon for people who are chronically homeless. For him, and the nearly 2,000 other chronically homeless individuals in the District, housing is healthcare. Half of all long-term homeless individuals are over the age of 47, with an average life expectancy of 62, a full 10+ years shorter than the general population. Without housing, these individuals will likely die on the street.
But there is a solution. Ending chronic homelessness is possible through programs like Housing First. Housing First provides housing and supportive services to the city’s most vulnerable homeless residents; those with a disabling condition who have been homeless for a long period of time or repeatedly. Since the inception of the Department of Human Services (DHS) Housing First Permanent Supportive Housing program in 2008, 1,596 chronically homeless people have been housed with 92% of people who enter housing remaining housed two years later. Between 2008 and 2012, key investments in Housing First programs have contributed to a 14% decrease in chronic homelessness among single adults in the District and 19.8% decrease nationally. .
Why is Housing First such a critical tool in ending chronic homelessness?
First, it improves health outcomes. Housing First takes people directly off the street and places them into housing without requiring them to undergo psychiatric treatment or maintain sobriety. This allows the most vulnerable individuals to more easily engage in services and address their chronic medical conditions once they are no longer dealing with the chaos of homelessness. A Denver study of Housing First residents found that approximately half had improved health and mental health status with a 72% decline in emergency-related costs.
Second, Housing First is cost effective. Too often people who are homeless cycle in and out of the ER and other emergency services, only to be discharged to the street. Housing First reduces reliance on these types of expensive crisis-related services. For individuals, the program costs the city about $60 a day compared to $905 a day for an ER visit or $2,000 a day for an inpatient hospital stay. A Seattle study found that Housing First saved the city almost $30,000 per person, per year. If we ended chronic homelessness among the approximately 1,800 chronically homeless individuals in DC, that would be a savings of approximately $56 million each year.
Despite the preponderance of evidence that Housing First saves the city money and saves lives, the program has not grown in the past several years. Since 2010 DHS has served fewer new households each year, with a high of 583 in 2010 to a low of 1 new household in 2013. This year, the mayor’s FY 14 budget contains no increases in funding for the DHS (PSH) Housing First program. Although the Mayor has made significant investments in affordable housing production, these investments do not meet the immediate housing needs of the District’s most vulnerable residents. It can take upwards of two years before housing being produced today will be finished. For Mr. G. and the other chronically homeless residents of the District, two years is too long to wait.
The Fair Budget Coalition is asking the city to invest $8.45 million in the DHS Housing First (PSH) Program to end chronic homelessness for approximately 340 vulnerable individuals and families.
An investment of $8.45 in the DHS Housing First Program and $10.3 million in the Local Rent Supplement Program could end homelessness this fiscal year for the elderly, people living with HIV/AIDS, and vulnerable homeless families.