So what did they do?
They gave the homeless homes. Not shelters; not halfway houses. Homes of their own. The program, called Housing First, has saved the state of Utah an average of $16,282 per person.
At first glance, it may seem like another wasteful government program that invites fraud and dependency. If you feel that way, you wouldn’t be alone—many opponents in Utah raised similar concerns.
However, it turns out that the chronically homeless are immensely expensive to take care of. The current costs of shelters, police, emergency medical care and the like add up to an enormous chunk of public money.
Lloyd Pendleton, the director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, reports that, with the traditional approach, the average chronically homeless person used to cost Salt Lake City more than $20,000 per year.
Is This a Better Way?
The current popular wisdom assumes that before putting people into permanent homes, you have to address their underlying issues. Get the mentally ill to take their medication, or get the addicts to stop using drugs or alcohol—and then get them into a housing program.
Well, it can be difficult to get people to make positive changes when they’re living on the street. Having a home gives a person a certain sense of self-worth. In Utah, at least, it seems to work much better if you start with a stable home and then work on self-betterment.
The 2005 program placed 17 people in homes around Salt Lake City. After 22 months, not one of those 17 was back on the streets. The number of chronically homeless in Utah has since fallen by 74%. Those are some pretty impressive numbers.
What do you think? Has Utah found a way to reduce chronic homelessness while lowering the taxpayer burden, or is this program’s apparent success destined to be short-lived? I’d love to hear your take on it here or on my Facebook page, so come over and join the discussion!