Is Permanent Supportive Housing the Gold Plated Solution to Homelessness?

This is an article that talks about how the Occupy Movement could show that living in tents in tent cities could be a viable way to handle homelessness.  Right now our best solution for homelessness is permanent supportive housing, where people are placed into long term living situations with peer support to help them resolve issues that may cause them to lose their housing.  Permanent supportive housing is cheaper than the default situation or the current status quo, where homeless people get support in jails, homeless shelters, and emergency rooms. It’s cheaper and much more effective than the current situation, but it’s still something like $20,000 per year per homeless person, so can it eliminate homelessness?

Maybe it is the gold plated solution, just a solution that would work in an ideal world. This is a point that the Homelessness Marathon has been trying to make for a long, long time. Maybe we need a solution that is way more affordable than permanent supportive housing. Maybe we need the quantum leap forward in price/performance that a social entrepreneurship approach could provide.  Here is the 2010 Homelessness Marathon that was hosted in Kansas City.

Permanent supportive housing and the costs of other solutions:

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What is a different approach besides permanent supportive housing?

The main idea is that “homeless” people are already living in tents in the cities, but allowing tent cities allows the homeless people to not get hassled to leave, not get their possessions stolen or burned out as often, and allows them more access to social services who can come to the tent city.

However, the counter point to this is that people are still homeless if they are living in tents. Many people who have worked on this issue for years have found that permanent supportive housing works incredibly well and is much cheaper than homeless shelters, hospitals, jails, and nursing homes that are used instead. One of our former board members was very adamant about this, “I’m not going to support any solution that isn’t a solution.”

Permanent supportive housing is giving a homeless person an apartment first, not requirement them to complete many other mental health or substance use services first. It’s called the “housing first” model. Here’s a good graphical description  of the program:

The view back stage of Hope Faith ministries hosting the homelessness marathon to debate permanent supportive housing versus other models

The view back stage of Hope Faith ministries hosting the homelessness marathon to debate permanent supportive housing versus other models

However, it’s very expensive. Tent cities can happen overnight, simply with a rule change in cities making it possible. The Occupy Movement showed last winter that cities that were left alone were to self-govern, didn’t increase local crime rates, increased the rate people could handle their problems, and were not major health hazards in the cities that hosted them. In fact, the vast majority of the problems associated with the Occupy camps were simply that they were in public, highly visible place where people had to confront the reality of homelessness.

Tent cities don’t change the level of homelessness, they just move it from invisible to visible. Whether this is a good or bad thing will depend on your viewpoint.

More information about homelessness:

Cliff Wright, one of the board members for Wellness Wordworks, says, “Interestingly, if you ask folks, any folks what they want more than anything else when they’re homeless…. the 1st, 2nd and 3rd answer is ALWAYS… a place / home /apartment etc. ie safety, security and sanctuary…. then the other issues come into play… and some real chance of addressing them. In my experience, Single room occupancy building’s, SRO’s,  are a cluster—— ? ie mini ghetto, that mostly deserve the bad rap… they beat a blank, fill a need but, in my experience do not equate with a place of your own. By in large they are way stations, controlled, monitored and housing the problems , not solving them. The contempory forms are, many times now, dependent on gov’t/social service initiation or support and are subserviant to politics and politicians before the actual needs of the homeless.”

Homeless activists in Kansas City wait their turn to speak to the national audience during the Homelessness Marathon

Homeless activists in Kansas City wait their turn to speak to the national audience during the Homelessness Marathon

Clif Wright makes another point: “Homelessness is not a monolithic problem, its causes are many multiplied by many then multipled by many more. I worked for a time as an intake counselor at a major shelter, in a large city. One of the most incredible aspects of the work was hearing peoples stories of how they became homeless and got to the point of needing emergency shelter and assitance. reflecting on this, two themes, above all else, jump out to me now … 1) they ran outta damn money and resources and 2) they ran outta folks who could or would give them a hand up or had their backs. All the rest are the complexities, which, by the way, are what so many mistake as the “causes.”  Clif Wright Aside from the two themes; I never heard the same story twice.

 What is your take on permanent supportive housing?

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