Homelessness is a heartbreaking problem that plagues every city and state in the country. Although study after study has shown that it costs states and cities more money to leave homeless people on the street than it does to give them a place to stay, few localities have done anything with this data. But a select few are leading the charge and showing that it is indeed possible to end homelessness.
Utah is on track to become the first state in the nation to eradicate homelessness. The entire state has fewer than 300 homeless people and will likely eliminate chronic homelessness by the end of the year, a housing expert told Mother Jones. (Chronic homelessness is defined as a person with a disabling condition who has been homeless for more than a year or has had four episodes of being homeless in the past three years.)
The state accomplished this feat by — guess what? — giving people homes. Rather than first getting homeless people "ready" for housing by putting them in shelters, rehabs or halfway houses, Utah was the first state to give the "Housing First" approach a fair chance. And it saved local governments money: The average chronically homeless person used to cost Salt Lake City more than $20,000 a year, Lloyd Pendleton, the director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, told the New Yorker. Putting someone into permanent housing costs the state just $8,000.
"If you move people into permanent supportive housing first, and then give them help, it seems to work better,” Nan Roman, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Homelessness, told the New Yorker. “It’s intuitive, in a way. People do better when they have stability.”
New Orleans is on its way to becoming one of the first U.S. cities to eliminate chronic homelessness, and it may do so by the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina later this year, the head of a local homeless advocacy group told NOLA.com.
Unity of Greater New Orleans and its coalition of homeless advocacy groups have already reduced the number of chronically homeless people in the city from 4,579 in 2009 to only 677 last year. Overall homelessness is also down in the city: The total number of homeless people sleeping at local shelters on a given night in January 2013 was 2,337 compared to 11,660 in 2007, representing an 80 percent decrease, NOLA.com reported.
The Barack Obama administration set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, and Phoenix was the first city to answer the call. In late 2013, the city announced it had found homes for all of its chronically homeless veterans using the Housing First approach.
Although this is certainly cause for celebration, Arizona would do well to apply the Housing First approach to its overall homeless population, which is still painfully high: One in every 230 Arizonans (over 28,000 individuals) experienced homelessness in 2012, according to the Phoenix Rescue Mission.
Austin, Texas, provides housing for hundreds of chronically homeless residents in a 27-acre tiny house community called Community First Village. The "Tiny House Movement" is being tested as a solution to homelessness across the country, from Austin and Utah to Rochester, New York. But Austin is the first city to get their plans off the ground, after nearly 10 years in the making.
“This is a plan that could revolutionize the housing movement in the United States,” Alan Graham told NBC News. The Texas activist says his self-founded organization, Community First, has already lifted 100 homeless people off the streets. “The city of Austin loves us,” he said. “They think we’re on the verge of breaking the code.”
After engaging with the 100,000 Homes Campaign — an initiative launched four years ago to help communities place 100,000 chronically homeless people into permanent housing — Nashville is making significant strides toward ending chronic homelessness.
In 2013, the city launched How’s Nashville, a concerted effort to end chronic homelessness by the end of the decade. Previously, the city placed an average of 19 homeless people in permanent housing each month. Today, it’s housing an average of 47 per month, Will Connelly, who directs the city’s Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, told the New York Times. Since last June, the city has placed more than 500 chronically homeless people in permanent supportive housing, Connelly said.
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