Like most smart solutions that evolve from a simple and, perhaps, obvious idea, Housing First sets up a win-win model for both parties...
Confucious said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." Certainly anyone watching, reading or listening to the news last May would have had the same thought.
Utah, a state known to be rather conservative, made national headlines as a result of both its reduction in the number of its homeless residents over the past decade and in how they achieved such astonishing results.
First the numbers:
The program responsible for Utah's success, Pathway's to Housing First, has a fairly simple premise—by providing clean, safe and stable housing for their homeless, communities can then address the underlying factors that lead to chronic homelessness.
By far, the two biggest contributors to chronic homelessness are mental health issues and drug abuse, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that the highest costs to communities associated with chronic homelessness also are around providing services and dealing with the consequences of these very same culprits, mental health issues and drug abuse.
The program works because people who have consistent housing, as in a place to call home, have been shown to be more successful maintaining necessary treatment, attaining and retaining employment, and, in general, reintegrating back into the community where they establish connections that help keep them motivated and on track.
Like most smart solutions that evolve from a simple and, perhaps, obvious idea, Housing First sets up a win-win model for both parties (municipalities and homeless residents), so it makes it difficult for either to discount the benefits they will enjoy from participation.
So, why aren't more cities and communities taking advantage of the Housing First approach? It's the national homeless solution for the entire country of Canada. Yet here in the US only 7 of the 13 states with homelessness rates above the national average of 18.5% have yet to employ this program.
Why, when there is no downside, do otherwise reasonable people either fail to act or fail to see the reason in such a proposition?
Popular books by Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely and a host of others have established that we, as individuals, consistently behave irrationally, making decisions that are frequently not in our own best interests. I wonder also if our already hampered decision making is further compromised by group dynamics, as you would find in any community or governing body?
The fact that Pathways to Housing First is approved by the federal government, and the Obama Administration in particular, certainly may have something to do with some states rejection or resistance to its logic and also makes the Utah story that much more remarkable, but where both lives and actual costs are concerned not to mention quality of life for an entire community, again, where is the down-side?
Whatever the cause of the resistance, as income disparity increases and more and more communities find themselves dealing with homelessness, Utah's success stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when the simple solution is embraced.
I hope the wisdom in opting for this course of action isn't lost others.