(This editorial that appeared in the Key West Citizen on July 17, 2017 originally appeared in the Ocala Star-Banner)
Homelessness seems like one of those persistent problems that never goes away — but a housing strategy that has gained favor nationally in the past decade has proven effective in dramatically reducing homelessness.
Called Housing First, the strategy holds that the best solution for homelessness is moving people into permanent housing as rapidly as possible. The notion is that providing housing without preconditions, such as sobriety tests, provides the stability needed for those are homeless to access services such as mental health treatment and job training.
Now 23 House Republicans — including Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville — are calling for the federal government to turn away from the Housing First approach. In a recent letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, they suggested that the policy doesn’t give homeless people with substance abuse problems enough incentive to sober up.
The letter also argued that HUD’s emphasis on Housing First is causing programs for homeless families and children to lose funding. Certainly that is a reasonable concern, but moving away from Housing First risks reversing the progress that has come from it.
The federal government first embraced Housing First under President George W. Bush’s administration, not because of some ideological belief but because it worked. Cities across the country have found the approach has reduced chronic homelessness and the costs associated with it.
The CEO of Changing Homelessness in Jacksonville told Floridapolitics.com, which first reported on Yoho signing the letter, that veteran homelessness has dropped over 80 percent in that area since a Housing First policy was adopted. Florida Hospital in Orlando saw a nearly 60 percent reduction in emergency room visits by formerly homeless individuals now involved in a Housing First program, officials there announced recently.
Homeless advocates say the biggest need in solving homelessness is, well, a lack of housing. They say hundreds of families are living in their cars or in tents or worse. Getting people into housing and relieving their worries about safety and shelter is a huge step toward resolving the other issues associated with homelessness — again, health, jobs and nutrition.
The federal government has made Housing First its foremost program for addressing chronic homelessness. In communities where the program has been instituted on a broad scale, they are seeing success. Clearly there is a need in our community to more aggressively adopt a Housing First model to further reduce the numbers of homeless.
Yoho and the other House Republicans should reconsider their objections to Housing First, and HUD should think twice before abandoning an approach that has reduced homelessness and the costs associated with it. There are too many homeless in our community and state to not work try to make Housing First work. It makes sense. Give a homeless person a home and it will free them up from a major daily worry — where am I going to sleep tonight.