Supportive Housing Solution Back to Menu Of Solutions

“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.

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