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Why supportive housing is one of the best solutions to homelessness

Our movement has a mantra: Homes end homelessness. We’ve all been saying it for the last year and our work continues to be guided by it. The best way to help our neighbors off the street is to bring them inside and support them as they recover.

In recent years, the “housing first” approach to ending homelessness has gained popularity, first as an idea and then as a proven method. People recognized that being homeless makes every aspect of day-to-day life more difficult, and many of the challenges that homeless individuals face in getting back on their feet could be addressed if they had a permanent address. They also recognized that many people who experience homelessness struggle with mental illness, physical disabilities, and other issues that make it difficult to adjust back into life off the streets.

“Don’t think it can’t happen to you. It happens overnight. The question is, if it does happen to you, what would you like your homelessness to look like.” —Emily

Issues like PTSD don’t just disappear when you put a roof over someone’s head and most people who have been homeless for years can’t easily fall back into a routine of buying groceries and paying bills. We need to be smart and compassionate when we think about helping our homeless neighbors who are the most vulnerable and in need.

Supportive housing combines a stable and affordable living environment with on-site supportive services, like mental and physical health services, job training, and addiction treatment that can help people deal with the issues that contributed to, or were exacerbated by, their homelessness. Research shows that this form of housing is the most effective way to reverse homelessness and it’s easy to see why. Numerous studies on the impact of supportive housing on individuals and communities have demonstrated the following results consistently:

  • Effective – Supportive housing has a 90 percent success rate of reversing chronic homelessness, meaning that individuals who enter supportive housing stay housed for at least a year. People who enter supportive housing also see increased stability when it comes to employment, mental and physical health, and school attendance; and reduced substance use.
  • Efficient – The cost of keeping people on the streets is far greater than the cost of housing them. Homeless individuals without access to stable shelter and consistent services are far more likely to rely on emergency shelters and health care, often getting stuck in a revolving door that drains civic resources and doesn’t allow people to exit.
  • For everyone – Supportive housing doesn’t just help the formerly homeless individuals who live there; it helps the entire surrounding community. Studies have shown that bringing supportive housing into a neighborhood (versus shuffling people from one street to another) improves the overall safety of the neighborhood and can increase property values.

People who enter supportive housing find more than four walls and a bed—they find hope and an opportunity to thrive on their own terms. Homelessness affects all of us and we all deserve to heal.