Utah has found a simple formula to end chronic homelessness in the state. When you added up expenses like shelters, emergency room visits, jails, and other support services, the combined cost of caring for the chronically homeless can be anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 per person per year. However, if you just give a chronically homeless person a place to live, the cost of caring for them drops to around $10,000 or $12,000 per year. So, after looking at that simple math and doing some trial runs, the state went all-in with its Housing First Program. The idea is so simple, but so anachronistic when compared to how we have traditionally treated homelessness, that it seems at first like it couldn’t work. But it has. Utah cut its chronically homeless population by 72 percent in the past nine years.
Mother Jones details the effort in a long feature that also delves into what life is like in one of the apartment complexes the state constructed to house its homeless population. Worth noting is that Utah’s successes are not isolated or contingent on any specific conditions in the state. The “housing first” approach to homelessness has had successful trial runs throughout the country, and it works best when public agencies and private organizations, particularly faith-based organizations, work in tandem.
In Dallas, “housing first” is an approach to solving homelessness that Larry James and his CitySquare organization has been advocating for years. In fact, last year, CitySquare, working with a broad coalition of public and private partners, broke ground on the Cottages at Hickory Crossing, a permanent housing development a half mile from downtown Dallas that will house 50 chronically homeless people. Still, that number of new homes for the homeless is still trial-sized when compared to Salt Lake City, which constructed five new apartment complexes with housing for 1,000 people. How the state managed to build political and charitable support for the project is another interesting aspect of the story, tapping a leader of the Mormon Church to join a state agency and help lead Utah’s initiative. The whole piece is well worth a read.