Tom Kellar: ‘Housing First’ a key component to homeless issue
Regarding publisher Jim Hemig’s editorial “Homeless Lives Matter,” I’m thankful for The Union’s desire to keep the local homeless issue on a front burner following Dr. Marbut’s presentation at Center for the Arts.
I’m also hoping this community continues to brainstorm the issues of homelessness, investigating methods which claim success and asking elected leaders to take an active part in identifying and funding solutions. I think this naturally should lead to a discussion of “Housing First.”
Anyone interested in truly understanding alternative approaches to the homeless problem should Google those words and check out the data being reported by states and cities where it’s been enacted.
As I write this, Hawaii, the state with the highest homeless population per capita, is in the process of enacting its own Housing First program.
The housing first model began in 2005, in arguably the most conservative state in America — Utah.
In a nutshell, the powers that be in the Beehive State determined it would be much cheaper to house and case manage all of Utah’s homeless in their own rental units, rather than be on the financial hook for police action, ambulance calls, emergency room visits, etc.
The basic premise for housing first is that a chronically homeless person is first housed, then encouraged and challenged via case management to address the issues that have helped keep them homeless.
It has been widely reported that Salt Lake City was spending an average of $20,000 a year for each homeless individual.
After Housing First, that number dropped to $8,000 per person including ongoing case management. States like Colorado and cities like New York are reporting similar statistics.
Just last week I was listening to NPR when they reported that as of today, at least 80 percent of Utah’s homeless population is now housed.
Can a “housing first” approach keep people housed? It has been reported that “Utah’s first pilot program placed 17 people in homes scattered around Salt Lake City, and after 22 months, not one of them was back on the streets.”
Again, thanks to Mr. Hemig for continuing to push for answers to homelessness.
His call for the community to “put a plan together that will establish a better path for homeless people looking for a chance to regain their place in community” is welcomed.
It seems obvious this will require city and county financial commitment and leadership. But I would also caution that if that “plan” does not include a long hard look at options like housing first, then it will be far from complete.
Cindy Maple, the Hospitality House executive director, is fond of saying, “We don’t have a homeless problem, we have an affordable housing problem,” and in that regard I believe she’s absolutely right.
Tom Kellar is a housing specialist with Hospitality House at Utah’s Place in Grass Valley.
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