Sunday, February 8, 2009

Housing First! Part Two

The first doctrine of the Housing First model, “The direct, or nearly direct, placement of targeted homeless people into permanent housing . . .” is revolutionary. For decades here in the United States we have taken for granted the idea that people had to “be prepared” for housing. When I hear people take this position, I always imagine they have in mind some wild child reared by wolves who has never slept indoors. A new Romus or Remulus for a new world growing up in the woods without human contact.

I’ve never met such a wild child. I doubt I ever will (but I have seen the movie Nell). The homeless men and women that I know began like all of us, but then somehow their life went wrong, usually in more than one way. People had a mental illness, an addiction, a loss of job, loss of a spouse or family, a financial setback or a serious illness. One man I knew lived alone and had lost contact with his family. He had a heart attack and was hospitalized. By the time he recovered enough to leave the hospital; he had been evicted by the apartment complex where he lived. All his possessions had been placed in the street by the sheriff and were gone. He was in overwhelming debt from the expenses of his illness.

Now, I probably know as well as most people that many, many homeless people were complicit in the route that led to their homelessness, but many, even most, is not all. I’m not sure that it matters in the end.

What the Housing First model understands (for all of you skeptics that believe nothing good came out of the Bush administration, and for all you other skeptics that believe Housing First is a liberal plot, it was Bush’s administration that made Housing First the policy of the country) is that trying to treat homeless people while they are still homeless is throwing money down a rat hole.

Doing what works isn’t a political act, its good old American pragmatism, and Housing First works.

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