“Chronic homelessness” is defined as a condition of being without housing for an extended period of time due to a disability, mental or physical, that prevents the individual from working a full time job. Living on the street is dangerous and unhealthy, as well as undesirable for the city as a whole. Cities spend a lot of money trying to provide medical services and shelters for this population, as well as policing, but many programs and housing solutions don’t include the chronically homeless.
Chronic homelessness can be addressed with the purchase of motels, currently empty and out of business due to COVID (and thus not generating tax revenue), to be turned into permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless. In Seattle, the city council has passed ordinances to provide housing and has the jurisdiction to pass this proposal. A nonprofit, Plymouth Supportive Housing, has already experimented with this model in Seattle and provides impressive evidence of success, as do similar programs in Salt Lake City and Columbus, OH.
In permanent supportive housing, individuals would receive medical care, food, addiction treatment, and other services along with a place to stay. While that may sound expensive, the students cited impressive data to prove that supportive housing is much less expensive (as well as much more effective) than a patchwork combination of shelters, clinics, and other service providers. In fact, supportive housing actually saves money for the city in the long term: the city spends $30-$50K per homeless individual now, while permanent supportive housing would cost $16-22K per person. Only 4% of individuals provided with supportive housing go back to living on the street. The start-up costs of buying the motels are more significant in the first year: $20 million for four motels in Seattle, compared to $4-5 million in successive years to maintain the program.
Providing medical treatment as part of a housing solution shifts the focus onto the illnesses these individuals struggle with, illnesses that are outside their control, so that even those who don’t see a moral imperative in providing housing will be persuaded by pragmatic arguments rooted in careful cost analysis.
References and citations:
- “Addressing Homelessness.” Addressing Homelessness – HumanServices, https://www.seattle.gov/humanservices/services-and-programs/addressing-homelessness
- Beeckman, D. (Dec. 2, 2020). “Mayor Jenny Durkan signs 2021 budget, hopes Seattle has ‘turned a corner’”. Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/mayor-jenny-durkan-signs-2021-budget-hopes-seattle-has-turned-a-corner/
- CBS News. “Housing First: A Permanent Housing Program for the Chronically Homeless – 60 Minutes.” CBS News, CBS News, 4 Dec. 2019, www.cbsnews.com/news/housing-first-a-permanent-housing-program-for-the-chronically-homeless-60-minutes-2019-12-03.
- “Creating Permanent Supportive Housing”. (2021). City of Seattle. http://www.seattle.gov/council/issues/creating-permanent-supportive-housing
- Couch, Robbie. “Utah Has So Few Chronically Homeless People Now, It Knows Each One By Name.” HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/utah-homelessness-decline_n_7164304.
- “Departments”. (2021). City of Seattle. http://www.seattle.gov/departments
- Granicus, Inc. “Office of the City Clerk.” SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL – Record No: CB 119975, http://seattle.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4713331&GUID=E80A58F8-052C-46EA-BEA3-56A333125654
- “Housing and Shelter.” SAMHSA, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 15 Apr. 2020, www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/housing-shelter#:%7E:text=Housing%20and%20Shelter%20Transitional%20or%20supportive%20housing%20and,affordable%20housing%20are%20commonly%20recognized%20causes%20of%20homelessness.
- Maddux, M; Rankin, S. (April 1, 2019). “Seattle has the solution to chronic homelessness – We just need to bring it to scale”. The Urbanist. https://www.theurbanist.org/2019/04/01/seattle-has-the-solution-to-chronic-homelessness-we-just-need-to-bring-it-to-scale/
- McEvers, Kelley. “Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness By 91 Percent; Here’s How.” NPR, NPR, 10 Dec. 2015, www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459100751/utah-reduced-chronic-homelessness-by-91-percent-heres-how?t=1615926140890.
- “Myths and Facts.” Third Door Coalition, Third Door Coalition, www.thirddoorcoalition.org/myths-and-facts. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021.
- Nickelsburg, Monica. “The Cities Making a Dent in Homelessness — and What Seattle Can Learn from Them.” GeekWire, 28 July 2018, www.geekwire.com/2018/cities-making-dent-homelessness-seattle-can-learn.
- “Point-in-Time Count Estimates a 5 Percent Increase in People Experiencing Homelessness, Newly Updated Data Dashboards Reveal More People Receiving Shelter and Services – King County.” King County, 1 July 2020, www.kingcounty.gov/elected/executive/constantine/news/release/2020/July/01-homeless-count.aspx#:%7E:text=The%202020%20Point%2Din%2DTime,compared%20to%20the%202019%20Count.
- “Proven solutions to end chronic homelessness”. (Jan. 10, 2019). Third Door Coalition. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bd7b2fab10f25e616ff7009/t/5c820f75eb3931317b59b838/1552027510825/ThirdDoor_Infographics_rev8_NEW_FINAL_01-10-19.pdf
- “Why Housing First?”. (2021). Plymouth Housing. https://plymouthhousing.org/why-housing-first/