Housing First Controversy

Despite countless studies confirming the effectiveness of housing first, some are still skeptical of the approach towards reducing and eventually alleviating homelessness in the United States, pushing for the traditional housing method. In an article published online by The New York Times, Vice President of Policy Research at the Manhattan Institute, Howard Husock, argues that permanent housing is not the answer. Husock believes that providing shelter and mandatory supportive services alongside with provided shelter are key to helping those who have “fallen through through the cracks of our porous mental health and drug treatment programs.” Housing first, rather, is based on making permanent housing available while offering supportive services, without making these services mandatory.

Others argue that housing first is the most effective and cost-efficient way at ending homelessness. Adam Gibbs of Community Solutions explains housing first as a stable housing method that neither requires nor makes housing dependent on completion of or compliance with treatment, mental health care, employment training, alongside other services. Gibbs also states that numerous studies have found that the housing first approach ends chronic homelessness for chronically homeless individuals quicker, more often and more permanently than the traditional, treatment first approaches, noting that on average, 85% of housing first tenants do not return to homelessness, which exceeds the retention rates of traditional housing methods. According to Gibbs, housing first is far less expensive than traditional housing methods, benefiting both those receiving housing first services and the American taxpayers funding housing first. A 2014 study found that in Central Florida, each chronically homeless individual cost American taxpayers “$31,065 per year, primarily from inpatient hospitalizations, emergency room fees and criminal justice costs.” The study also found that by providing permanent housing for the chronically homeless, the individual costs was just $10,051 per homeless person, per year.

Housing first has been proven time and time again to be more effective and more cost-efficient than traditional housing methods. In theory, if cities and towns across the United States implemented housing first approaches, chronic homelessness and homelessness in general would be reduced and virtually non-existent. As Kevin Corinth of the American Enterprise Institute posts on The New York Times website, “Housing is a good start, but it’s not enough. If we house every chronically homeless person but don’t address their other needs, then we have failed them. Real success occurs when individuals reconnect into society as much as possible – staying housed, working when possible, achieving improved mental health, overcoming substance abuse, and reconnecting with family and community networks.” I more than agree with Corinth, but housing first provides a fantastic foundation to move forward, ultimately working towards ending homelessness in the United States once and for all.

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