Why Housing First Benefits Everyone (Not Just Homeless People)

written by Martena Reed
August 20, 2014

Since the first Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress in 2007, the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night has decreased by 9 percent. That’s almost 62,000 people. To what can we attribute this considerable decrease?

Since the majority of the decline occurred between 2010 and 2013, following the implementation of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), it’s safe to say Housing First had a lot to do with it. Getting homeless people back into housing as quickly as possible, without requiring them to meet preconditions such as employment, income, absence of criminal record, or sobriety, is a key element of the Housing First approach and the rapid re-housing model. And it’s reducing homelessness.

At our 2014 National Conference earlier this month, several experts speaking in the “Research on the Efficacy of Housing First” workshop discussed the effectiveness of Housing First and how the approach doesn’t just help reduce overall homelessness, but also improves provider-consumer interactions, increases housing stability, and saves money.

In case you were unable to attend the conference, or just missed the workshop (there were a lot to choose from), here are my three most salient takeaways: 

  • Compared to non-Housing First providers, Housing First providers weigh consumer values more heavily. Housing First providers also felt that their job was less stressful.
  • Programs that follow the key elements of Housing First achieve better outcomes. Formerly homeless people in these programs experience more housing stability, less drug use, and a higher quality of life than people in programs that don’t closely adhere to the key Housing First elements.
  • Housing First saves money. In a Housing First program implemented in Canada, for every $10 invested in the program, there were overall cost savings of almost $7. And for the highest need people, for every $10 invested, there was a savings of almost $22. How’s that for a return on investment!  

In a nutshell, using the Housing First approach is good for consumers of homeless services, providers of homeless services, and the overall assistance system. Moving people back into housing quickly with no preconditions is not a fad, it’s the most effective way to end homelessness.

Graphics from "Frontline Practice within Housing First Programs" by Benjamin Henwood, USC School of Social Work, Los Angeles.