Housing First Approach to Homelessness Brings Hope to Hard Lives

This is a headline that next year could be a press release from New Jersey. The results in Seattle underscore the success of their initiative and is another indication that it can and will work in New Jersey. Imagine if you will the following two paragraphs of a press release with the names changed to Mercer or Trenton or any of the other counties developing housing first initiatives.

The City of Seattle’s Mayor Greg Nickel released studies showing that Seattle’s “Housing First” program is helping people whose lives have been shattered by homelessness, mental illness and addiction stay housed while saving an estimated $3.2 million in emergency social and health services.

“To end homelessness, we must find programs that work in reaching those who are the hardest to reach,” Nickels said. “These studies show that Housing First works. Instead of letting people fall through the cracks, this program helps to stabilize and rebuild lives while taking a costly strain off our social safety net.”

The following is a summary of the reports prepared by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. To read the press release and all of the details click here.

A study of residents of two Seattle Housing First projects has shown significant benefits to homeless individuals and the community. The preliminary study compared tenants’ behavior, use of services, and involvement in the criminal justice system 12 months prior to entering housing and for the 12 months after. The results for one of the projects, 1811 Eastlake, showed tenants’ use of crisis services declined substantially, resulting in a $2.5 million savings to public systems:

92 percent fewer nights in emergency shelter;
87 percent fewer admissions to sobering centers;
45 percent fewer bookings to county jail; and
41 percent fewer medical expenses.

Tenants also reduced their use of alcohol:

One third reduction in the number of days residents used alcohol to the point of intoxication and 63 percent increase in abstinence from drinking alcohol.

1811 Eastlake is operated by the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), and houses 75 formerly homeless men and women with chronic alcohol addiction. DESC worked with county officials to identify people who were the most frequent users of crisis services. Of the 79 people they approached with an offer of housing, 75 accepted. Tenants had been homeless an average of 31 of the prior 36 months before moving in.

Similar findings were reported for another housing first program, Plymouth on Stewart, which is operated by the Plymouth Housing Group in Seattle:

The need for medical respite was eliminated;
Emergency department visits declined 74 percent; and
Sobering center admissions declined 97 percent.