Nichole Guerra, Partnership for Strong Communities policy analyst
In my time working on homelessness policy, I’ve learned that “Housing First” is – above all else – a commonly misused term with a strong following of believers and skeptics alike. I’ve heard it debated on its merits just as often as I’ve heard confusion over its definition.
At the recent Housing First Partners Conference, I learned that Housing First is more than a philosophy, it’s an evidence-based intervention that views housing as a basic human right, not a reward for recovery. The model allows for faster stabilization than approaches that require “housing readiness” before move-in.
The challenges facing people experiencing homelessness are several and complex. For our most vulnerable populations, overcoming these challenges can take years. Allowing them to move into housing without conditions on treatment acceptance or abstinence from substance abuse or other (often consequential) human behavior produces stronger outcomes—with less use of other crisis services and reduced costs to numerous public systems.
It epitomizes the kind of public policy approach that both tugs at heart strings and appeals to the budget-minded. But even after twenty years of rigorous evaluation and experimentation, I hear claims that some of the most vulnerable people living on the streets and most at-risk aren’t “ready” for housing.
That they’ll fail.
People don’t fail in Housing First. They may lose their housing and become re-housed, sometimes on multiple occasions. But that’s the beauty of it. Housing First places no limits on re-housing, precisely because re-housing is not a failure. It’s an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned, adapt engagement approaches, rethink appropriate service supports, and try again.
In the words of Winston Churchill, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” When applied to ending homelessness, Churchill’s idea of success is still the most cost-effective and successful.
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