Cheaper To Provide Permanent Housing For Homeless People?

Many cities provide free permanent apartments first, then offer services and job training, to chronically homeless people. Eventually, formerly homeless people earn enough to afford the modest rents.
June 8, 2006, 7am PDT | maryereynolds
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Across the country, cities provide housing to homeless people because it makes economic sense. Typically, people in such programs are placed in sparsely furnished apartments free. Then they are helped into jobs or sign up for disability or other government benefits. Soon after, they are required to pay modest rents. Since they implemented the "housing first" strategy, cities like Denver, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, Dallas and San Francisco have seen a 15-70% drop in the number of homeless people living on the street.

Philip Mangano leads the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which provides modest funding to help cities implement "housing first" programs. He emphasizes that it is less expensive in the long run for cities to place chronically homeless people directly into apartments, and provide medical and addiction treatments there, than to watch them cycle endlessly through shelters, soup kitchens, emergency rooms, detoxification centers and jails. Mangano says: "Cost-benefit analysis may be the new expression of compassion in our communities."

Some homeless advocates remain cautious, like Bob Erlenbusch, chairman of the National Coalition for the Homeless who claims Mangano is glossing over the broader trend. He says federal programs for low-income housing, which can prevent homelessness, have languished in the Bush years or been cut. Also, cities have combined federal and local public money with foundation and corporate grants to start these programs. But officials believe a lack of long-term funding will hamper the development of needed housing and support teams.

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Published on Wednesday, June 7, 2006 in The New York Times
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