‘Housing first’ and helping the homeless

Posted by Pam Blanton on August 25, 2010

By Jon Morgenstern  Los Angeles Times

Initial findings on ‘housing first’ programs, such as Project 50 in Los Angeles, show that they may be a solution to chronic homelessness and possibly save taxpayer money. In its recent series on a controversial program for the homeless, The Times described a project called Project 50 that seeks to put a roof over the heads of substance abusers without requiring them to undergo substance-abuse treatment, while still offering them as many services as they would use.

The new approach, known as “housing first,” has been heralded in communities across the nation as a promising solution to end homelessness and save taxpayer money. Skeptics have asserted that the program is both wasteful and immoral because it simply warehouses substance abusers, enabling them to continue their self-destructive lifestyles with the support of taxpayer dollars.

The best answers to this debate will come through careful research. My colleagues and I are evaluating a similar program in New York City, which three years ago began the effort to house 500 chronically homeless individuals with alcohol and drug-abuse problems. While the results of this study are forthcoming, our initial findings on this and similar programs can help inform the current debate.

As with any social program, questions about the success of housing first depend on the expectations. Here are three useful measurements: Does it reduce homelessness, save taxpayer dollars and help rehabilitate individuals compared with other programs?   READ MORE

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