Mother Jones – March April 2015

Clean up cities.  Give the homeless a place to live.  And save money too?  The shockingly simple, surprisingly cost-effective solution that won over a bunch of conservatives in Utah. 

There are approximately 580,000 homeless people in America.  Jurisdictions that have embraced the Housing Frist model (where housing is provided first) have helped drive down the national totals in recent years. 

Utah found that giving people supportive housing cost the system about half as much as leaving the homeless to live on the street.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg slashed housing subsidies after saying that the though they promoted passivity instead of “client responsibility.” Today, 60,000 New Yorkers are homeless. 

The old model (providing temporary shelter, food, counseling and medical services) was well intentioned but misinformed.  You actually need housing to achiever sobriety and stability, not the other way around.

Frankly, the following chart pretty much says it all:

There were probably six or seven homeless folks – one was a woman – who used to hang around and sleep near our office when it was in Dupont Circle.  I often hired them clean up outside, sweep the leaves, clear the snow, carry stuff upstairs, etc. paying them for their work.   What I learned was that most of them were veterans of Vietnam and every one of them had multiple problems – alcohol abuse, drug abuse and mental problems were pretty much endemic.  A couple of them also had hair trigger tempers with violent tendencies and would engage in street brawls with lots of yelling, foul language, bruises and lacerations. 

Then there were a couple who kept on trying – ultimately without success – to free themselves of the horrible situation they found themselves in.  One, Alex by name, must have enrolled in a dozen job training programs during the time I knew him (He has since disappeared from the scene.) including a cooking program up in Boston where he spent about three weeks.  In the end, however, Alex would “forget” to take his meds and would be “disenrolled” from every program he ever tried.  Alex, in my non-professional view, suffered from schizophrenia and never received adequate treatment for his condition.   I last saw Alex about three years ago sitting on the sidewalk on Connecticut Avenue with his makeshift shoeshine kit at his side. 

Despite all the trouble each of these guys – and the one woman, who, by the way, was actually the most together of all the homeless folks I knew – got themselves into, their legendary battles with the city’s bureaucracies, the constant drifting in and out of stability and chaos that was their lives, the virtually non-existent medical and mental help they received, I have to say that by and large they were a very interesting group.  They had personal histories.  They had stories to tell and I listened.  Got to know them a bit and they trusted me.   
And every single one hated the shelters.  Their biggest complaint was that their “stuff” got stolen.  Their “stuff,” meager as it was, was precious to them probably giving them a sense of identity and a minimal level of daily consistency.  I think the idea of providing the homeless with housing sounds like a good one especially in light of the costs of other solutions.  Of course, with Republican state legislatures passing new laws telling poor folks what they can and cannot spend with their welfare checks on (no doubt thanks to ALEC again) I could imagine the outpouring of righteous indignation that would result from this kind of proposal.  Other than in Utah I guess. 

But then aren’t conservatives the ones who are always yapping on and on about fiscal responsibility?  Even in the face of the facts that Housing First is a cheaper alternative?  Republicans don’t seem want to have anything to do with helping folks in need being too busy helping the very wealthy I guess.

The full article is here:


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