In 2009, when Barrack Obama took office, up to 600,000 Americans experienced homelessness on a regular or chronic basis, nearly 1/3rd were unsheltered entirely. 9-12 percent were veterans. In 2010 the Obama Administration initiated project Opening Doors with the US Interagency Council on Homelessness involving 20 federal agencies. Between 2010 and 2014, unsheltered homelessness declined by 25 percent. Since 2010, homelessness among Veterans has declined by 33 percent overall; the number of unsheltered Veterans declined by 43 percent. By November of 2015, 7 cities, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Phoenix, Houston, Las Vegas, Syracuse, Schenectady, and two states, Virginia and Connecticut have effectively ended veteran homelessness and were working towards a 2017 goal of dramatically reducing, even ending chronic homelessness for everyone in the United States. Salt Lake City, New Orleans, and Phoenix solved this “unsolvable” problem within six months of initiation of Opening Doors.
The most important aspect of this program, the part responsible for massive health care, and housing savings is the Housing First initiative. Housing First recognizes that the stability of a permanent residence is often a prerequisite to addressing the other social and economic issues of homeless, for anyone, veteran or not. The program does not support any sort of “drug testing” or any other superficial, ridiculous, ineffective and expensive barriers to rapid re-housing. The program focuses on getting people in need permanent rental housing, using standard lease agreements (with no service requirements) as quickly as possible.
In some case, such as in Utah, It was determined that the cost of ‘transitioning’ homeless with mental health or substance abuse issues, through shelters, then to half-way houses with treatment and then finally into homes was CONSIDERABLY more expensive than simply putting someone into a permanent home… to the tune of $20,000 per year versus $8,000. Colorado saved even more money by abandoning the transitioning paradigm for the Housing First model ($43,000/$17,000).
The old schema assumed that one first had to make a person “housing ready” by resolving their “underlying issues.” But in many cases it was discovered that the true underlying issue was homelessness itself. To put it simply, people do better when they have real stability. In the first 22 months of Utah’s program, not a single person in the program wound up back on the streets. Since then, the number of Utah’s chronically homeless has fallen SEVENTY-FOUR PERCENT!
Oh, and by the way, the initial plan for Housing First was introduced by Philip Mangano, the Bush Administration’s homelessness Czar. So this very liberal sounding scheme originates within far-thinking conservative circles that can see past their noses, past the peanut counting to the future benefits to the entire country, and not just to the immediate political benefits.
Additionally, in resolving these people’s homeless issues and enrolling them in programs within the Affordable Care Act, the program has saved on average, nationwide $18,000 per year, per individual in heath savings. Hospital inpatient costs were reduced by 66 percent. Detox visits were reduced by 82 percent. Incarceration days and costs were reduced by 76 percent. The amount of money that Opening Doors and the Housing First schema has saved is a challenge to account for. By some estimates it saved as much as $4 million in its first year of existence.
In 2014, the 100,000 Homes Campaign set a goal of placing 100,000 chronically homeless persons in 186 communities into permanent supportive housing. To date they have, according to their website 100khomes.org, placed 105,580 people into permanent housing, including 31,000+/- veterans. There are 476 days left in the program! In 2016 the program initiated the Zero: 2016 campaign. According to Director Becky Kanis, former Captain, U.S. Army, the programs have resulted in a 30% decrease in Veteran homelessness nationwide since their inception. Director Kanis also say; ““What works to end veteran homelessness will work to end all homelessness. Permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing are proven strategies, and they actually save taxpayers money!”
Everyone should write their representatives and tell them that THIS is the sort of program that the American people support. A program that helps people, saves money, and is representative of deep American values.