Smarter, Less Expensive, More Humane  

By United Way of King County, on January 26, 2015 | In Fighting Homelessness

Well it turns out that ending homelessness is as simple as getting people into homes.  The strategy is called Housing First. In Seattle/King County we’ve know this for some time and now even Jon Stewart has “reported” on how successful that approach can be.

Housing First is just that.  It means placing people into housing regardless of the barriers or behaviors that might otherwise keep people out of housing.  For years common practice was to screen people out of housing if they were not clean & sober or if they had significant mental health issues.  But the reality is that it is nearly impossible for someone experiencing homelessness to manage an addiction or a mental health issue while on the street or in shelter.  More often these individuals were being kept out of the housing that was developed specifically for them.

United Way’s Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness was based on a Housing First philosophy.  Working with partners like the City of Seattle, King County, and our local Housing Authorities we were able to align our goals and our funding to help create thousands of new units of housing for individuals transitioning out of chronic homelessness.  Individuals placed in these units had better outcomes and cost our community less money than allowing these same individuals to cycle endlessly through other expensive systems like criminal justice, health care, etc.  A report looking at cost savings for 180 clients who were placed in these housing units found total cost off-sets based on service use reductions to be approximately $2.8 million after one year.

We know that this strategy works.  It is a smarter approach, it is less expensive, and it is more humane.


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