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Affordable Housing , Community Development , Homelessness , Supportive Housing

Does Supportive Housing Encourage Bad Behavior?

17 December 2012

“Why should we provide publicly-funded housing to chronically drug-addicted individuals?  Doesn’t that just enable them to keep abusing drugs and make them more dependent on the rest of society to support their habit?”  That is the question that my brother, who lives and works in Alabama, asked me recently.

I began to reconsider the rationale behind permanent supportive housing and the Housing First approach advocates have applauded.

Part of me thinks that when banks became “too big to fail,” they were not deterred from risky lending behavior and had no incentive to change their behavior. In the same way, if we reward those who have addictions with the safety net of housing, they have no incentive to change their behavior and, in fact, may be enticed to use drugs to get supportive housing.

However, physical and psychological drug addiction causes people to make decisions based on their bodies’ perceived need for drugs, rather than on good judgment. They cannot be held to the same expectations as rational thinkers, but is it fair to grant them a special, judgment-free ticket to continue risky or illegal activity?

Consider the alternatives: Institutionalizing them has not been a good or just answer. Incarcerating them is an expensive, public-funded solution, and does not always lead to rehabilitation. Letting them stay in emergency shelters often surrounds them with others who may not be positive influences. And leaving them in the street to freeze to death is not humane. Although housing someone who is addicted to drugs is an expensive solution, if the person is also provided with positive influences and community resources and a space of their own, then they have a better chance of making a clean start.

For the chronically-addicted person, it will take years to recover, and full recovery may never be possible. However, if you can get someone off the streets and into an environment where they can make a new start in a neighborhood with economic diversity, and if they are inspired and supported to become independent again, then the benefits of providing housing for them seem to outweigh both the social and financial costs to society.

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