Is Housing the Homeless a Success?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on May 12, 2014

Randy Shaw at Beyond Chron has a great take down of some newspaper columnists' inconsistent and illogical arguments against spending on supportive housing for the formerly homeless. 

But worse than the reporters’ misconceptions about city homeless spending is their denigration of the entire supportive housing model; “The problem is that, between the housing market and the type of people in the program, as often as not they don't move on. As a result, the housing fills up, and the street homeless population has stayed pretty much steady at about 7,000 for the past 10 years.”

It’s now a “problem” that people go from the streets to housing and don’t return to homelessness? I remember when Matier & Ross used to denounce “Camp Agnos” and ask why the city didn’t do more to house homeless people.

Now that the city is doing what the columnists said they should do, they have changed the goalposts so that the new test for success is the numbers still not housed.

The critics' attitude toward supportive housing is obviously wrong-headed, as Shaw points out. It's not necessarily intended to be transitional, and stably housing people over the long term is absolutely a success. There can also be a role for transitional programs, but not at the expense of supportive housing for those who need it.

But I also wonder if the successes of Salt Lake City and Phoenix in reducing their chronic veteran homeless population to near zero is creating expectations that other places should be able to do the same? Is the bar being raised? That could be a good thing, but if so, critics should take note that those cities did so by providing housing, so carping about programs that do just that is ironic at best.

About the author more »

Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of Shelterforce and associate director of the National Housing Institute. Her email is miriam at nhi dot org.

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