There are many misconceptions about homelessness – who the homeless are and why they are homeless, for instance. One common narrative is that the homeless are people just like you and me: One day they are normal, functioning individuals with loving families, and the next they are forced out of their homes and onto the streets because of an economic downturn or rising housing costs.
Thus, the most effective solution for homelessness is permanent, affordable housing. For all.
Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all solution neglects the underlying needs of many, such as those suffering from a serious mental illness or substance abuse, who make up a large amount of the homelessness population.
In 2020, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released a report called “Expanding the Toolbox: The Whole-of-Government Response to Homelessness.” It opened with strong words about the Housing First policy that the nation had been previously operating under:
The federal government’s policy shift in 2013 to prioritizing housing first as a one-size-fits-all approach has not worked to reduce homelessness for all populations and communities.
Policies that do not address the real root causes of homelessness combined with high housing costs in over-regulated markets have exacerbated the homelessness condition in America.Expanding the Toolbox: The Whole-of-Government Response to Homelessness
Earlier the same year ,Stephen Eide at the Manhattan Institute published a report on how Housing First does not live up to its promises. Those findings included:
Housing First has not been shown to be effective in ending homelessness at the community level, but rather, only for individuals.
A Housing First intervention for a small segment of “high utilizer” homeless people may save taxpayers money. But making Housing First the organizing principle of homeless services systems, as urged by many advocates, will not save taxpayers money.
Housing is not the same as treatment. Housing First’s record at addressing behavioral health disorders, such as untreated serious mental illness and drug addiction, is far weaker than its record at promoting residential stability.
Housing First’s record at promoting employment and addressing social isolation for the homeless is also weaker than its record at promoting residential stability.Stephen Eide, “Housing First and Homelessness: The Rhetoric and the Reality” at The Manhattan Institute
Robert Marbut, the former Executive Director of the USICH, sat down with Dr. Drew to talk about homelessness (especially as it is experienced in California) and how the Trump administration was planning to tackle it. With the inauguration of President Joe Biden this year, the federal policy has returned to Housing First. The interview, however, remains relevant, as it contains many helpful insights into how homelessness can be addressed for the good of the mentally ill, the addicted, the down-on-their-luck, and the community at large.