Housing First: an Innovative, Humane Approach to Homelessness

“Housing First” is an innovative, smart, and more humane way to address the problem of homelessness. It also makes economic sense.

This new approach to homelessness provides safe, stable, community-driven housing to the chronically homeless as a first step. Once people have secure housing, they can access support and assistance for common issues like substance abuse, mental illness, and employment training. In the past, homeless people were required to show sobriety and stability before they could access public housing options. This leaves the homeless on the streets during the day and at shelters overnight, functioning in survival mode while trying to find work, secure housing, and sometimes get sober. This can often become a self-perpetuating cycle, as well as an expensive one, as the long-term homeless frequently use expensive emergency services like shelters, ambulances, police and ERs. As the costs of these services add up, this approach ends up being more expensive than services like Housing First, which begins with housing, and provides a more stable and supported structure from which to address underlying issues.

Housing First can take many forms, from designated apartments in existing buildings to the creation of new developments with the sole purpose of housing the homeless. Our own city of Portland is home to three different developments following the Housing First model, each built by Avesta Housing and run by Preble Street, a nonprofit social services agency.

Though it takes in initial investment by policymakers, this solution has been shown to cost less in the long run, saving money and working to end long-term homelessness.

Read more about Housing First, the money it could save, and Portland’s offerings here.