Housing First gives hope

Providing direct housing for the homeless benefits everyone.

A new national campaign called Housing First has shown dramatic results in reducing the number of chronically homeless across the country. Cities like Minneapolis would benefit by adopting the compassionate and pragmatic approach behind the program.

In the Twin Cities, as in many metropolitan areas, the homeless become part of the urban landscape like a stop sign or a garbage can. Society blames them for their own misfortunes and treats them like burdensome objects. Rather than treating the homeless as permanent street fixtures, the Housing First programs offer a real way out of homelessness.

The campaign seeks to end homelessness by placing the homeless directly into their own apartments. Once housed, they are helped into jobs or disability benefits. From there they begin to pay rent at a reduced rate. They begin to have the power to help themselves.

Perhaps the greatest asset of the program, aside from giving people homes, is that it benefits entire communities. The program boasts it is cheaper to put people into housing rather than have people cycle endlessly through detoxification centers, shelters, soup kitchens, emergency rooms and jails. The program works and makes cities better places to live. In Philadelphia, for example, street dwelling has decreased 60 percent in the past five years.

In Minnesota there are an estimated 4,000 chronically homeless people who live here year-round. This number is growing with the continued lack of affordable housing in the area and the simultaneous increase in poverty. This is to say nothing of the eroded livable-wage work opportunities, decline in public assistance and lack of affordable health care.

Most tragic is that homeless people are disproportionably affected by mental illness and addiction. If these illnesses were treated, many would have the potential to be equally as productive as any other citizen. Housing First is one of the few programs that recognize this and provide compassionate and pragmatic solutions to the problem. Its methods should be implemented on a wider scale.