It’s so simple. If you really want to stop homelessness, start by giving people a place to live. That’s the mission of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national movement created by the nonprofit Community Solutions that works with communities across the country to connect the most vulnerable homeless individuals with housing. These apartments are highly subsidized — paid for mostly by the federal government, with contributions of 30 percent of any income these individuals receive as rent, no matter how much that amount changes over time. In return, the formerly homeless have a solid starting point to get back on their feet, along with a connection to any supportive services that they want or need — from addiction counseling and medical services to budgeting tools and more.
The idea of providing “housing first” has already proved itself in Utah, where the rate of chronic homelessness has been reduced by 74 percent over the past eight years, putting the state on track to eradicate homelessness altogether by 2015. In Atlanta, the same initiative moved 800 people off the street in 2013. And now the campaign is gaining momentum in Tennessee, where 200 individuals were placed in homes in just 100 days in Nashville. All together, participating communities have connected more than 83,000 Americans, including at least 23,000 homeless veterans, to apartments. And the best part? The program is actually saving taxpayers money.
Studies have shown that the public cost of providing permanent supportive housing for the most vulnerable homeless people — meaning those with addiction, mental illness or chronic diseases like cancer — is less than simply allowing these individuals to stay on the streets. The biggest reason is health care. Homelessness causes illness, as well as exacerbates existing mental and physical ailments and addictions, leading many individuals to seek out expensive medical services, much of it on the taxpayers’ dime. “The inability to tend to your basic healthcare needs results in people on the streets ending up in emergency rooms and ending up in in-patient hospitalizations. And one night in the hospital is a whole month’s rent on most places,” Becky Kanis, director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. “We are paying more as taxpayers to walk past that person on the street and do nothing than we would be paying to just give them an apartment.”
On its face, this movement may seem counterintuitive. As Cooper told Kanis, “It does seem like you’re rewarding somebody though, who’s — you know — drinking or doing drugs or just being irresponsible.” But Kanis disagrees. “I see it as giving them a second chance. And most people, given that second chance, do something about those behaviors.” Indeed, the 60 Minutes report cites a University of Pennsylvania study, which found that when homeless people in Philadelphia were given housing and support, more than 85 percent remained in homes two years later. These individuals were unlikely to become homeless again. While the program isn’t 100 percent successful — in fact the 60 Minutes report follows one individual who can’t seem to shake his addiction — the changes in those who take advantage of their second chances are nothing short of remarkable. Just look at the before and after photos. “There is something that’s really dehumanizing about living on the streets in so many ways. And then, really, in a matter of days, from having housing, the physical transformation is almost immediate,” Kanis says. “And I don’t think that there’s anybody, once they see that, that would say, ‘Well, let’s put them back on the streets again.’”