What is Housing First?
For nearly three decades, homeless service providers have worked to offer medical and mental health care, addiction counseling, job training, spiritual care and countless other services to people living on the streets. Most people experiencing homelessness were told they had to earn their way to permanent housing by successfully completing these prescribed services.
While the intentions behind this approach were good, the unfortunate result was that very few people ever escaped the streets. Far too often, attempts were made to treat the symptoms of homelessness instead of its root cause.
The Ventura County CoC Alliance believes this traditional approach is backwards, and the data agrees. Countless studies have now shown that we must offer housing first, not last, if we want to help people out of homelessness. An immediate connection to permanent supportive housing can ensure that over 80% of homeless individuals remain housed, even among clients with severe substance abuse and mental health conditions.
Imagine trying to battle addiction, take care of serious physical and mental health conditions or find steady employment while simultaneously battling homelessness. Contrary to popular opinion, these things are not precursors to housing. Instead, they stem from the safety and stability that comes from having a permanent home in the first place. That’s why the Alliance has adopted a Housing First approach.
Housing First is a simple philosophy that dictates that the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness be offered the choice to move into permanent housing combined with supportive services (permanent supportive housing) right away. It discourages imposing conditions on permanent housing, whether related to health, employment or sobriety. This approach has a documented track record of ending homelessness while often encouraging people to make their own choices to get healthy, quit drugs and alcohol, and find employment when possible.
Studies also show that Housing First approaches involving permanent supportive housing tend to be much cheaper for taxpayers than allowing people to remaining homeless. As individuals with the highest health and service needs benefit from the stability of housing, they are better able to tend to their needs in productive, self-driven and long-term ways. As a result, they make less frequent use of expensive, publicly funded services like emergency rooms, shelters and jails.
Ultimately, Housing First is based on the simple idea that an unhoused individual will be most successful when able to make his or her own informed decisions about housing and health. Housing and services are made available when an unhoused individual chooses them, not as a requirement or mandatory condition. This breeds a sense of independence and self-efficacy that is often instrumental in helping individuals remain safe, healthy and housed.