Rather than taking on the severe affordable housing crisis that is driving homelessness, housing insecurity, and rent burdens in communities all over the country, politicians, media pundits and others have seized this opportunity to blame Housing First as a failed policy. As a result, many communities have proposed laws that will criminalize the state of being homeless rather than following the evidence. This can be seen even in communities that recognize the efficacy of Housing First: housed community members and business owners raise concerns that are often prioritized over investments in meaningful solutions to solve a complex problem.
For those of us in the business of ending homelessness, we must work together to combat false narratives while making the case for proven solutions. And this absolutely and necessarily includes continuing to make the case for Housing First.
The Real Impacts of Housing First Approaches
Ten years ago, as a former federal employee, I had the opportunity to be a part of building the case for wide-scale adoption of Housing First across the federal government and as the prevailing practice in homelessness response systems. We followed the evidence that showed that even for people with the most complex service needs, more than 80 percent were still housed after a year when assisted with a Housing First approach.
This shift provided real impact. From 2007 to 2016, the total number of people experiencing homelessness decreased by 17 percent, with even more astounding results when looking at specific subpopulations. From 2010 to 2016, family homelessness decreased by 23 percent, veteran homelessness decreased by 47 percent, and chronic homelessness decreased by 27 percent.
During this time, homelessness systems were more efficient and capable of housing more people – and more rapidly than ever before. These changes happened because of increased bipartisan investment in housing resources, combined with the concerted efforts of the federal government, national partners, and local homelessness response systems.
So, what changed?
The data shows that despite successful efforts to increase housing placements from homelessness, particularly among veterans, underinvestment in deeply affordable housing and severely underfunded programs have led to inequitable access to opportunity. More recently, the number of people becoming homeless each year is increasingly equal to or greater than the number of people being housed. This has resulted in an alarmingly number of individuals and families becoming homeless year after year, which is especially true for historically marginalized groups.
Housing First is Just the First Step
To combat dangerous narratives and misinformation that lead to the introduction of harmful legislation (like the Housing PLUS Act, which would further undermine the ability to effectively implement Housing First approaches), the Alliance thinks it’s important to share some critical reminders.
The Alliance understands the responsibility that it holds in uplifting and promoting strategies to end homelessness. Our commitment to Housing First remains unchanged and we will continue to fight against dangerous narratives, oppose harmful legislation, promote the evidence, and build capacity to ensure successful implementation of the Housing First model.
The Alliance looks forward to continuing to build the case with you, and hopes you’ll join us in advocating against the threats to what we know works.