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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Gorman

Housing & Homelessness

Nearly 600,000 people in the United States are experiencing homelessness and the problem is worsening. This number includes both sheltered and unsheltered people. African Americans are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and this is cause for major concern.

Historically, in many cases, there were requirements the people who were homeless needed to address if they were to be extended housing – whether temporary or permanent. On one hand this seems to make sense. After all, there is a strong American mindset that each person should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

However, a great many people who are experiencing homelessness have issues pertaining to addiction, mental health struggles, or have experienced some sort of trauma in their life. This trauma may have come from extreme poverty, sexual abuse, or some other physical/mental injury.

The bottom line is that certain individuals were hurt so severely that it hinders their ability to live in a manner that enables them to be and remain housed.

Housing First: What It Is

Permanent housing enables ancillary supports to be in place right from the start. This includes mental health services, treatments for substance abuse, job training, and custom-designed services.  People who have a place to live are more receptive to treatment if they have a place to call home.

Housing First Works

The first and most important way that Housing First works in reducing homelessness is by providing immediate housing to those in need. This means that individuals experiencing homelessness are given a stable and safe place to live, without any preconditions or requirements. This approach recognizes that having a home is a basic human need and provides individuals with the stability and security necessary to address other issues in their lives.

Focusing on Long-Term Solutions

Historically the approach to homelessness involved temporary shelters and transitional housing. This helped with the immediate challenges but did not address long-term needs. Housing First works by focusing on long-term solutions instead of short-term solutions. People who are unhoused need a stable foundation which comes in the form of a place to live. From this foundation can come work on mental health, substance abuse, and employment issues.

Emphasizing Individualized Support Services

Individuals are just that – individuals and cookie-cutter approaches do not work. Individualized care is core to the Housing First methodology. Case management, mental health services, job training, and substance abuse services are best provided to people who have a place to live. A principle aim of Housing First is to address all the needs in a person’s life so they can stay in stable housing.

Reducing Costs for Communities

Doing right by others saves money for communities over the long run. Studies have shown that permanent supportive housing is cheaper than keeping people in emergency shelters, and jails and also reduces criminal behavior since living on the street leads to people needing to take desperate measures at times. Services delivered by the police and emergency medical services declined as well.

Promoting Dignity and Empowerment

Every human being has inherit dignity. From that dignity and with the proper support people can be empowered to live independently in their own homes. Higher self-esteem and mental well-being lead to better outcomes not just in housing but in other areas of a person’s life. Regaining control over a person’s own life and making decisions for themselves is a true indicator of success.

Room For Growth

Due to a lack of funding and education on the matter, Housing First is not practiced in every community. As a result, people remain in shelters striving whose primary goal is to keep people from dying in the cold. I am not trying to be hard on these community agencies. A transition from the older shelter system to the Housing First model is not cheap. You have to establish as many permanent living beds as are needed – while cutting shelter beds to help pay for it. Not an easy balance.


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