“Housing First” policy does what it says—it attempts to address homelessness by finding housing for homeless people before attempting to solve other problems these people might have.
This common-sense solution has come under fire by critics, mostly Republicans, who claim that it fails to address the real causes of homelessness: Mental health and drug abuse. (And then the Republicans don’t want to do anything about mental health or drug abuse either. Well played, Republicans!)
However, numerous studies show Housing First works.
Two examples of Housing First implemented in San Diego “show that formerly homeless people are remaining housed and may be more open to rehab than if they had stayed on the street,” according to a report by Gary Warth in the San Diego Union-Tribune. www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/home…
Out of 400+ tenants in two properties purchased for homeless housing in 2020, most original tenants are still there, and of the 15% who have moved away, nearly all are in other permanent housing or temporary housing.
But what about substance abuse? Some 25% of tenants self-identified as having substance abuse disorders. The actual number may well be higher because people are going to lie about that kind of thing.
Of those self-identifying as having substance abuse disorders, few seek treatment: Just 12%. That’s not much, but if you put these people in housing, more of them will live long enough to get into treatment, because the mortality rate of people on the street is four times higher than the general population.
Moreover, treatment is more likely to work if people are housed. Substance abuse treatment is difficult and painful, and even harder to do if you’re also dealing with the daily traumas of homelessness.
Also: the Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry looks at four common beliefs about homelessness. voiceofsandiego.org/2023/07/2…
One myth is that homeless people are coming to California and San Diego to take advantage of the better weather and more generous social programs. But the reality is that most homeless people aren’t coming to San Diego from elsewhere; their last residence was right here, Huntsberry reports.
That makes sense: If you find yourself homeless, that’s a traumatic event, and you’re not likely to leave your support network of friends and family and go somewhere where you don’t know the neighborhoods, you don’t know where it might be safe to sleep, or how to go about finding work or benefits. www.nytimes.com/2023/07/1…
California has a bigger homeless problem than most places. The state is home to 12% of the country’s total population, but 30% of its homeless, Huntsberry reports.
Another belief is that many homeless don’t want to get off the streets. Even San Diego’s Democratic Mayor Todd Gloria supports that idea. But the reality is that shelters in San Diego are functioning at nearly full capacity every day of the week. “Far more people ask for shelter every day than receive it,” Huntsberry says.
The third belief is that mental health problems and substance abuse cause homelessness. It’s true that mental health problems and substance abuse are prevalent among the homeless–but those conditions don’t cause homelessness. We know this because places like West Virginia, which have high rates of drug use and mental illness, have low homeless rates.
Homelessness is caused by housing that is expensive and hard to find, which describes San Diego. timesofsandiego.com/business/…
Huntsberry cites a book, “Homelessness is a Housing Problem,” by Gregg Colburn and Clayton Page Aldern.
In their book, the researchers compare finding housing to a distorted game of musical chairs. In this game, some people have broken ankles and other ailments. These people are the most likely to be left standing when the music stops. So it is with housing. People with mental illness and substance abuse problems are the most likely to have problems getting housing in a tight housing market.
But in places where housing is affordable and abundant, people with mental illness and substance use disorders can usually maintain housing.