Utah: Housing First Ends Homelessness

72% Drop in Chronic Homelessness
NJ Can Do the Same or Better

Utah: Housing First Ends HomelessnessIn another example of the progress that states with ten year plans to end homelessness have made, Utah recently announced that their plan and housing first which was a key initiative has lead to a 72% decrease in the number of chronically homeless individuals.

According to an editorial – Utah’s Housing First program proves successful – in the Desert News:

In one of the leading examples around the nation of counterintuitive thinking, Utah has been giving away apartments to the homeless. It is a program has actually saved Utah money. For each homeless person, estimates for emergency medical bills alone are more than $16,000 a year on average. Giving them an apartment costs about $11,000. And it has drastically reduced the need for emergency medical visits.

Outside of medical, various other costs, including legal and justice system costs are estimated to add another $20,000 to $30,000 dollars a year (depending on the location). Utah’s housing, and support for the individuals once they are residing in a home, cuts those total costs by over half, all-in-all, from about $19,000 a year to under $8,000.

The editorial notes that:

Designed by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the program was modeled after the “Housing First” program pioneered in New York City more than 20 years ago. This approach involves putting housing ahead of all other concerns. When followed, alcohol consumption rates have been found to go down, along with drug usage and public nuisance behavior. Each year some 10 percent leave the program and become fully independent, and only 6 percent are ejected the program. The rest continue to work year by year with their caseworker.

The surprisingly cost-effective solution is only one of many across the nation. Wyoming has its own “Housing First” program. A study released last month by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness found that Florida residents pay less to house the homeless than to do nothing about it. “Each chronically homeless person in Central Florida costs the community roughly $31,000 a year,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

New Jersey should create a plan that implements a combination of Housing First, Rapid Re-Housing, Coordinated Assessment and prioritization for the homeless by public housing authorities and end homelessness for our 13,900 homeless neighbors.

The Desert News editorial concluded with the importance role that a place to call home can and does make in all of our lives.

Perhaps the most potent question raised by the program’s success is how safety nets, including a home to which people return each night, impact people. There are two possibilities: first, safety nets undermine personal responsibility, or, alternatively, safety nets allow for mitigated risk-taking – and which can lead to real growth. Both nuclear and extended families can function in the latter manner – together with innovative thinking through Housing First. We are hopeful for the program’s continued success.