The Solution to Chronic Homelessness? Try Homes.
When people end up on the street and stay there, it’s usually not just because they can’t afford the rent. A whole host of things have come apart in their lives.
Putting a life back together is hard, especially without a roof and a bed. The longtime practice of getting tough with people who are down-and-out — through anti-loitering ordinances and crackdowns on petty offenses like public drunkenness — satisfies a public hunger for enforcing personal responsibility. But some people cannot be punished into self-sufficiency. For them, the cycle of chronic homelessness – shuttling between jail, emergency room, hospital, shelter and street — can be all but impossible to break.
This is why more policy makers have embraced the idea of supportive housing, also called “housing first,” which admits chronically homeless people into subsidized housing and gets them social services and treatment for health problems and addictions. This approach is more effective, more compassionate and far cheaper than withholding services and shelter while you wait for troubled people to get their acts together.
It’s working across the country, in places like Jacksonville, Fla., and Nashville. It’s working with veterans. A 102-unit supportive-housing complex in the Skid Row section of Los Angeles opened on Wednesday. It includes a health clinic and the headquarters of the Housing for Health division of the county’s Department of Health Services. The complex, called Star Apartments, is beautiful in an artsy-architectural way – its crazily stacked pre-fab units are not what we are used to seeing when the government tackles poverty. But you could also call it beautiful for what it is trying to do.