Housing First

Posted: January 13, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Goals, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Politics

I came across an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about how the City of Seattle has found a way to help their local homeless and save money at the same time. The article was called: "Housing Homeless Saves Money."

It dealt with a program called "Housing First" which is something that many homeless advocacy groups are trying to promote.  

Regarding the Housing First initiative, The National Alliance to End Homelessness states:

"Housing First is an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing homeless people with housing quickly and then providing services as needed. What differentiates a Housing First approach from traditional emergency shelter or transitional housing approaches is that it is "housing-based," with an immediate and primary focus on helping individuals and families quickly access and sustain permanent housing. This approach has the benefit of being consistent with what most people experiencing homelessness want and seek help to achieve."

On their Housing First initiative page, a homeless advocacy group called Beyond Shelter, headquartered in Los Angeles, says two things that really caught my eye. First:

"According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, we are now experiencing a period when worst-case housing needs are at an all-time high."

And second, with regards to the Housing First initiative:

"Housing first is an alternative to the current system of emergency shelter/transitional housing, which tends to prolong the length of time that families remain homeless."

But, getting back to article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer… it states that the Housing First programs that the City of Seattle has in operation are:

"…saving taxpayers about $3.2 million a year by directly addressing their residents’ struggles with alcoholism, mental health problems and other issues…"

In one of the Housing First residences the numbers of resident visits to a local "sobering" facility have dropped from "5,549 to 222," trips to the medical center have decreased by 75%, and days spent in jail have been cut in half.

I’d say that the Housing First program as it is currently being utilized by the City of Seattle is having an effective impact on helping their local area homeless.

Now that San Luis Obispo County has hired the San Francisco based homeless advocacy group HomeBase, to help draft a 10 year plan to end homelessness here locally, I think that the Housing First initiative should definitely be on the list of things to do. It would be the kind of win-win situation that this area needs to help address the needs of local homeless, WITHOUT draining tax payer dollars.

In fact, if a Housing First program were indeed instituted in this area, since it has been proven to work and save money at the same time, it would mean that more could be accomplished with the same amount of money. Now that’s what I call a bargain.

Of course, I’m sure that some local grinch is going to moan and bellyache about the cost. There’s one in every crowd. Hopefully, the SLO County Council members won’t listen to the whining and complaints that are sure to rise once the 10 year plan is finally unveiled to the general public.

More importantly, I hope that the SLO County Council will do the right thing, and at least make the attempt to genuinely seek a solution to ending homelessness in this area. And, hopefully they will be able to accept the fact that we may not get immediate results, but that if we are willing to put our sights on the ultimate long range goal, we have the potential for significantly reducing the numbers of persons who are afflicted by homelessness.

And, in my opinion, that is a noble goal.

A couple of nights ago I was at the Green Home Galleria – home of "Made In San Luis Obispo" – in Arroyo Grande. On one wall was a piece of art by local artisan Drora Siamon called "Book In A Case."

I was struck in particular by the saying in the work:

"Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

Enough said?

  1. tbearly says:


    Beat me to it – I was going to send you that story. It was splashed all over this area, partially due to Nickels’ (Seattle’s mayor) political needs, but hey, okay. “Housing First” appears to be something that might be working in this area. It’s the idea of more permanent housing being made available, as opposed to the Tent Cities that dot this area, that encourages me. I think the Tent Cities are a noble effort and they do what they can do. But they’re still temporary, and live constantly under municipal/political threat. The Housing First program intends to have nearly 300 more housing units constructed and available by 2011.

    Unfortunately, the same day that the “Housing First” story ran in area papers (with accompanying local news blurbs), an article about increased numbers of Washingtonians living in poverty was also published. There was a sharp increase between 2001 and 2005 of people living in poverty, even as the state’s median household income rose.

    Still, the program is a beginning, and I think it’s always heartening and welcome to learn of a program that may be working, because it’s one of the things that indeed keeps people working towards finding solutions to problems.


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