When Housing the Homeless Doesn’t Work: The Failure of “Housing First”

Housing First is not only failing, it’s causing homelessness to get worse across the nation. This should have been quite obvious to government leaders, given that so many people, in fact the majority, have become homeless because of drug addiction.  They lost their housing because of an addiction.  So if you just give them housing again and dont’ treat the addiction, what do you expect to happen? Right.  They will lose their housing again.  Which is what is happening with a huge number of the addict homeless given housing.  But somehow government leaders could not figure this out, and we’ve all paid the cost, with so much money wasted. Homelessness has increased 15% nationwide since “Housing First” was implemented.

Let’s begin with some news reports and studies:

https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/streets-of-shame/study-suggests-housing-first-model-worsens-homelessness/2313300/

In that one you’ll see Andy Bales, of Skid Row’s Union Rescue Mission, and HUD Secretary Ben Carson, both saying that Housing First doesn’t work.  “Housing should be second

Homelessness increases 43% with “Housing First”:

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8t2waZAASV/?igshid=my9k5iwy94j4

It’s an often-repeated mantra among the city leaders and advocates for the homeless, that “the solution to homelessness is housing.”  As I’ve shown in many of the articles on this site, however, this viewpoint is overly simplistic, as it fails to take account of the fact that a great number of people have ended up homeless because of problems that housing  alone wont’ solve — such as drug addiction, serious mental illness, or criminal behavior.  In fact, as many news stories on this situation have indicated, it’s likely that the large majority of those who are homeless, have one or more of these kinds of serious problems.  Recall the homeless woman in the “Seattle is Dying” news story, who stated that she hadn’t met any homeless person who didn’t have a problem with drugs.

Still, many will argue, that even if homeless people have such additional problems as these, their lot will still be improved by giving them housing, which will increase the stability in their lives and allow them to address the other problems that they have.  This may be quite often the case.  I think most everyone is likely to do better if they have  shelter or housing, as compared to living on the streets.

But it may be the case — and as those who’ve worked in depth with the homeless have seen, and will tell us, if they are honest — it’s not so simple a matter that we collectively face, as just finding a way to give shelter or housing to everyone.  Because some people are actually unable to keep the housing that they are given — even if it’s subsidized, and they pay little or no rent.

For instance, in investigating the homeless situation in Los Angeles, a reporter there found that it was not uncommon for people to be given housing, only to lose it again in a short amount of time, because they were unable to follow the rules at the site.

In this story:

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-08-15/the-street-within-part-three-homeless-people-find-apartment-life-difficult

We read this:

For the first time since 2011, he was off the streets.

But within weeks of moving in, he began to break his rental agreement, according to one of the apartment owners who soon issued a “30-Day Notice to Vacate.” It listed nine violations, including drug use, unauthorized guests, vandalism and theft.

“Neighbors are in fear of their safety and belongings,” the co-owner wrote.

Flenoury contested the claim, and his case manager had tried to intervene and help him adjust to his apartment. But he couldn’t monitor his behavior every day. There was a fine line between being helpful and being intrusive.

Within days of receiving the letter, Flenoury was picked up by the LAPD and later convicted of failing to register with local law enforcement as a sex offender. He had gone from his new apartment to Men’s Central Jail.

He served 180 days, according to the Sheriff’s Department, and then was back on the street.

 

Another similar story is told about others recently taken off the streets and housed in Los Angeles:

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-08-15/the-street-within-part-four-moving-homeless-encampment-off-streets

The biggest problem for Niecy was an ex-boyfriend with a machete.

One night in early January, at a little past 11, she called 911. She said the former boyfriend was banging on her door with a sledgehammer. It turned out to be the machete.

Police arrived. They had gotten to know the apartments well. In the last three months of 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department had responded to 46 reports of suspicious activities at the two buildings, some of them actual complaints including domestic violence, vehicle theft and burglary.

The officers told Niecy to get a restraining order. But she didn’t bother.

A security camera had recorded the incident, and in early February she received a letter from a law firm telling her she had 10 days to move out.

Six weeks later, Dion was on the street as well. He had relinquished his unit after what he said was a fight on the premises. He claimed he had been set up. The People Concern was trying to find him interim housing.

Niecy and Dion had lost a rare opportunity and once again joined the city’s vast community of homeless.

This article https://la.curbed.com/2018/6/15/17464686/homeless-again-housing-data-los-angeles

indicates that 5% of those who were formerly homeless and given housing, lost their housing again within a year.

In San Diego, statistics are worse, where 27% of those given housing, lost it within 2 years.  https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/homelessness/story/2019-11-21/details-on-san-diegos-homeless-revealed-in-report-from-annual-count

Then too, if we look at the whole picture more broadly, there is a massive failure of the Housing First approach to homelessness, as described here:
https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/472449-housing-first-approach-wont-solve-homelessness-crisis

Of Utah, often cited as a success in the Housing First approach, the article says this:
“Utah, which was once lauded by Housing First advocates, initially reported reducing its homeless population by 91 percent between 2005 and 2015­. But a recent report from the state’s Legislative Auditor General found that number was based on flawed data that falsely inflated the decrease in homelessness. To add insult to injury, the homeless population in Utah has nearly doubled since 2016.”

The article goes on to say:

“A major problem with the Housing First policy, according to Graham, is that it focuses solely on giving someone a roof over their head and not allowing for the expectations that enable residents of the Community First! Village to thrive.

Nearly 75 percent of unsheltered people in the United States struggle with substance abuse disorders. Giving them a roof over their head without expecting them to address the root causes of their homelessness robs them of their inherent dignity and the opportunity to reach their full potential”

An auditor found that it was impossible to gauge success of Utah’s approach to homelessness due to bad or useless data:
https://le.utah.gov/audit/18_12rpt.pdf
https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2018/12/10/audit-says-its-impossible/

A lot of cities are throwing a lot of money at homelessness, trying to solve the problem, but unless they are tracking the effectiveness of their work, such as by keep statistics on whether those to whom they provide housing, are able to stay housed, this money could actually be wasted.
We hear a lot, as well, about people needing “supportive services” to stay in their housing.  But this begs the question — how much are the rest of us, taxpayers, expected to spend on people who have so much trouble with such very basic things in life, that even when they are given subsidized housing and barely have to work to pay for it, they still can’t manage to keep it?  How much is it fair for us all to be paying for these people, and are there ways of housing them that would be less expensive?

For instance, when I read about these homeless people being housed, it seems that they are always being given an entire, private apartment.  This is something that even a lot of people who work for a living aren’t able to afford.  So why are those who are not able or willing to work, being given what many people who work hard, are not receiving?  Why can’t we house the formerly homeless in rooming houses, why aren’t we constructing SROs for them to live in, which would cost less to build and cost less to house them?  Or even less expensive, would be to build shelters or housing where several people could live in each room?  These types of living situations would afford people less privacy, it’s true, but who says that people who are so heavily dependent on government aid, should get everything they want?  Particularly when many who are given housing will just end up losing it again, I think it would behoove us to spend less on the housing that is offered, and provide something more minimal and basic.

What do we do with those who have least ability to support themselves? 

It would behoove us to note, that in all of this consideration of how to house some of the most dependent or least functional people in our society….to be clear that this is the problem.  It’s not about some “generic” homeless people that we have to figure out how to help….it’s the problem of what to do with those who seem to have the least ability to help themselves, who have the most unhealthy and/or self-destructive or dysfunctional behavior, the least education and skills… who seem unable to work to support themselves, and who may often lose housing when given housing.  In other words, the people at the very bottom of the barrel.  What kind of help needs to be given to these people, and what do we have a right to demand of them in exchange for that assistance?  At a bare minimum, every kind of shelter or housing has some type of rules, and yet, there are people who are unable to adapt to even the most basic rules…and they are the ones who are likely to stay homeless and “refuse services” or be unable to benefit from assistance or housing.

I suggest that we have not given sufficient thought to this topic…we have expressed the noble ideal of wanting to house everyone, but we have not reckoned with the reality that given the difficulties or problem behaviors that some have, it may actually not be possible to house them.  What then?