Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Which should come first in responding to homeless persons with alcohol or drug addictions: cleaning them up or getting them into permanent housing? Much of traditional thinking has been that addressing the personal problems needs to come first. But a notion called “Housing First” argues that permanent housing should be the first step; with the security of safe housing, homeless persons are more likely to be able to fix their personal and abuse issues. If this seems like a pie-in-the-sky insight – along the lines of: studies have shown that giving homeless persons a million dollars each helps them with their problems – is the more down-to-earth benefit that a homeless person who is given housing first tends to necessitate far less public dollars, over the next few years, than those handled in the more traditional order, according to new report. Here’s the press release from JAMA and a story from NPR. This advantage should make an urban taxpayer smile.
My chief concern, however, surrounds the housing for these homeless persons. Where are we going to find enough permanent housing for persons that still have serious alcohol or drug abuse issues? The organization “Beyond Shelter” discusses success here with Housing First in Los Angeles. But not every city in the country can find hundreds of apartments that will readily accept residents with serous substance abuse issues. We know that the federal government’s Section 8 housing program serves only a fraction of those who might desire it. In a sense, this concern with Housing First reflects my thoughts about school vouchers – it’s great for those who get one, but there is unlikely to be enough to go around.
One benefit of the current housing slump is that NOW, when prices are so low, is the time for governments to buy, build, or lease housing that can serve projects such as Housing First. A few years from now, it may be too late …
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