Housing First gets chronic homeless off the streets


POSTED: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The editorial board of the Star-Bulletin wrote a well-advised opinion about homelessness in Hawaii (”;Better 'homeless' policy needed,”; Dec. 5).

Presently, there are 6,070 homeless people in the state of Hawaii: 2,735 are in families; 778 are considered “;chronically homeless,”; that is, this group of people have some sort of disability that inhibits their ability to sustain permanent housing.

The editorial board is right to push for a more permanent solution for the state's homeless population—and there couldn't be a better time to be facing this crisis.

As the recession rages forward, unemployment and poverty rates are the highest they've been in decades. State budgets—and the social services they provide—are being slashed across the country. Need is surging just as supply is dwindling and the country is finding that more and more families and individuals are facing precarious economic conditions.

Housing First, as has been discussed, is an important step forward in addressing this problem.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness supports Housing First—a strategy that promotes housing-centric solutions to homelessness. While politicians and constituents may recoil at what seems like rewarding bad behavior, Housing First is a system that has been proven effective and—in many cases—even cost-effective.

Chronically homeless individuals often end up costing the state and local government money—in the form of emergency room visits, incarceration, social service consumed, and the like.

While it may seem counterintuitive, providing permanent housing—and the social service as needed—has actually been shown to cost less than allowing chronically homeless individuals to continue to live on the streets. Studies from Seattle, New York and Chicago have also shown that permanent supportive housing can reduce the cost of homelessness dramatically.

Even as we emerge from our economic woes, homelessness—notably among the chronic homeless population—will continue to persist. It is time to reassess our goals and direction and find a way to solve this problem as a national community.

Catherine An is media relations/ communications specialist with The National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C.