Utah’s cost-effective solution for housing the homeless

Utah’s innovative program of finding and building apartment buildings where the homeless can live permanently has been a major factor in a 72 percent drop in homelessness over the past nine years, according to Mother Jones.

One of the underlying causes of homelessness everywhere is that people can’t afford a place to live. Mother Jones cites the $1,400 a month that someone would earn in New York City, for example, if they were making minimum wage. But the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment there is $3,100 per month.

From the story:

They don't have enough money to pay rent, even for the cheapest dives available. Prices are rising, inventory is extremely tight, and the upshot is, as a new report by the Urban Institute finds, that there's only 29 affordable units available for every 100 extremely low-income households.

Utah focused on the state’s chronically homeless, who only make up about 15 percent of the homeless population, but are costly to accommodate. They fill up homeless shelters and spend time at emergency rooms and jails, according to the story.

Until Sam Tsemberis, a New York University psychologist, decided to try something different. He gave the homeless a place to live with no conditions attached, according to the article.

The results were remarkable. After five years, 88 percent of the clients were still in their apartments, and the cost of caring for them in their own homes was a little less than what it would have cost to take care of them on the street.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already had a similar program for church members who lost their jobs, houses and all of their money. So it became easy for Utah to partner with the church on Housing First.

According to Tsemberis:

It is a long stairway that required sobriety and required stability in order to get into housing. So many people could never achieve that while on the street. You actually need housing to achieve sobriety and stability, not the other way around.

Nine years into Utah’s Housing First program, they estimate that it has cost them half as much as it would to treat homeless on the streets. And sometimes, those costs can be exorbitant.

Osceola County, Fla., tracked the costs of 37 homeless people and found it to be more than $6.4 million over 10 years. In that time frame, those 37 homeless people were arrested a total of 1,250 times, resulting in large booking and jail costs, in addition to mental health care costs while in jail.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.