BY LAUREN LOW
On the banks of the Santa Ana riverbed, more than 500 homeless individuals were evicted from their self-made community, leaving them displaced. Homelessness in California has reached a point of crisis, with the homeless population within the state exceeding 115,000 people. Currently, the state lacks a unified approach to effectively deal with this problem, with many cities, such as Santa Ana, relying on expensive and ineffective policies of eviction and incarceration. A housing first homeless policy would be the most effective and humane way to address homelessness in California.
Housing first homeless policies prioritize placing those experiencing homelessness in stable permanent housing. After individuals have received housing, the government and local non-profits work to connect them to the resources they need to be successful, including treatment for mental health or substance abuse. Traditional approaches to homelessness may require people to go through multiple stages of treatment or transitional housing before being given permanent housing. Under a housing first approach, barriers to housing, such as treatment or sobriety requirements, are eliminated, allowing homeless individuals to be placed in homes immediately. The approach is inexpensive, effective, and provides homeless people with dignity.
Housing first approaches have already been implemented across the country with high levels of success. In 2005, Utah became the first state to institute a state-wide housing first policy. Under this program, Utah was able to reduce its chronic homeless population by 91 percent. The incredible success of Utah’s policy inspired other housing first programs, including Sacramento’s “Bridge to Housing” pilot program, which successfully rehoused 38 chronically homeless people who were living along the Sacramento riverbed. Of those 38, 80 percent remained housed two years later. As lawmakers struggle to find solutions to the state’s growing homeless population, they should look to past examples of successful housing first solutions and try to incorporate these responses into their policies.
Housing first is the most effective method for combating homelessness, particularly chronic homelessness. Homeless individuals who experience housing first programs are 46 percent more likely to remain housed than those who go through “treatment first” or transitional housing programs. When combined with access to additional resources and support, housing first solutions are able to provide homeless individuals with the services and treatment to move towards self-sufficiency and stability. Critics of housing first argue that the method does not adequately serve those who need treatment or additional services; however, success rates for housing stability remain high amongst people struggling with mental illness, disabilities, or substance abuse. Additionally, housing first provides services to homeless people at a lower cost than inpatient programs or emergency rooms. Housing first has been shown to be the most effective way to combat homelessness.
The state must operate under the principle that everyone has a right to adequate and stable housing. In order for that to happen, we as a society must change our views about homelessness. Incidents like the eviction of the Santa Ana Riverbed residents occur because local residents complain to legislators about homeless encampments in their community. Instead of pushing lawmakers to eliminate the homeless from public view, the public should think critically about calls for evacuation or temporary shelters. Support for housing first policies will provide a better solution for both homeless individuals and the state as a whole.