How Can Quality, Long-Term Supportive Housing be the Answer to Solving Homelessness?

Over the course of the past decade, an ever-increasing number of homeless advocates and experts on chronic homelessness have reached a consensus on an important issue. Specifically, advocates and experts have come to conclude that quality, long-term supportive housing is a crucial element to solve homelessness.

The Housing First Initiative

Before diving into why supporting housing appears to be a solid solution to chronic homeless, a moment must be taken to consider what has been a tactic that has been used quite widely in communities across the United States for some time. At its foundation, the housing first initiative strives to get a so-called permanent roof over the heads of homeless people with not preconditions. In other words, when advocates of this initiative say “housing first,” they really mean it.

Diving into the housing first initiative, even if a homeless person is afflicted with a substance abuse or addiction, a mental health condition, chronic unemployment, or some other issue, such an issue neither prevents a homeless person from accessing so-called permanent housing nor is does this initiative include companion assistance and support for issues of this nature.

In some cases, because of the stability provided by having more consistent shelter, some homeless people will seek assistance with other issues like substance abuse and addition, mental health conditions, or chronic employment. The stark reality is that a shockingly high percentage of people that end up in housing first programs either can’t or don’t access supportive services that truly are needed.

Although housing first is touted as a “permanent” housing solution, it proves to be anything but. Because issued like substance abuse and addiction, mental health conditions, and chronic unemployment are not appropriately addressed, a good number of people who enter into a housing first program end up back out on the streets again. In other words, oftentimes a housing first initiative proves to be another temporary fix and not a permanent solution to homelessness.

Overview of Permanent Supportive Housing

Despite the good intentions associated with the housing first initiative, it demonstrably is not a long-term answer to solving homelessness. At the same time housing first was taking center stage, permanent supportive housing was also seeing its genesis as a potential answer to solving homelessness in the United States.

The supportive housing model does more than just provide affordable housing assistance. It also provides vital support services for people in addition to essential affordable housing. These services are designed to support people with a myriad of issues, including:

  • Mental health
  • Substance abuse and addition
  • HIV/AIDS and other health conditions
  • Chronic unemployment

The supportive housing model saw its inception in New York City during the 1980s. In the past 30 years, it has remained a key component of that city’s efforts to combat homelessness. The New York supportive housing effort resulted in a city and state cooperative ventures known as the New York/New York Agreement, which went into effect in 1990. The program has been renewed twice and is considered many homeless advocates and experts on homelessness to be the “premier example” of how an initiative to reduce and even work towards solving homelessness can be structured and can work.

The Cost of Permanent Supportive Housing

Time and again, people in different communities have contended that permanent supportive housing is not cost effective. Now that a more than 30-year track record has been established regarding different permanent supportive housing efforts exists, a true perspective exists regarding what are financial benefits associated with this type of homelessness solution.

Since 1990, in New York City and elsewhere, there have been numerous authoritative research studies focused on permanent supportive housing endeavors. Uniformly, these studies concluded that permanent supportive housing costs less than other forms of emergency and even institutional assistance for the homeless population. The cost savings extends across the spectrum and includes expenses associated with housing, medical care, mental health assistance, and other service areas. The studies underscore that tax dollars are saved when permanent supportive housing initiatives are instituted.

Involvement of Case Workers

In conclusion, it’s important to note that permanent supportive housing programs include the utilization of case workers that are assigned to program participants. This s a key element to the success of this type of initiative to solve homelessness.

The reality is that every homeless individual or family has unique needs as well as goals. Thus, the permanent supportive housing approach doesn’t take a one size fits all approach to developing solutions. This approach to solving homeless is premised upon developing a specific program for each homeless individual or family. The unique program is facilitated and coordinated by an assigned case worker.

The problem of chronic homeless across the nation will not be solved quickly. However, the utilization of permanent supportive housing opportunities for homeless individuals and families is proving to be an initiative with consistently positive results.