End homelessness — a couple of years ago, that sounded to me like an impossible project. Now it seems within the realm of possibility.
A May 2014 report from Wilder Research describes three components of a solution: emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing. The barrier is not in figuring out what works, but rather in commitment and money — “the level of effort required to deliver services at the intense level necessary to help some of those experiencing homelessness achieve the goal of obtaining and maintaining some form of permanent housing.”
Emergency shelter is easy to understand. People living on the street or in their cars or couch-surfing at friends’ homes need safe, clean places to land. That means places for men, women and children, places to sleep and to be safe indoors during the daytimes, places to take a shower and wash clothes, places to store belongings securely. We don’t have enough of these shelters.
Beyond emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing provide longer-term assistance. According to the Wilder report on outcomes of supportive housing:
“In general, transitional housing programs are set up to help participants set and meet goals for increasing self-sufficiency, with both supports and rules for accountability to follow through. In contrast, permanent supportive housing is more often intended for use as a ‘low demand’ model, focusing primarily on getting people safely housed.”
For example, a transitional housing program might require abstinence from drugs, no alcohol on the premises, and daily participation in some kind of program or work. The goal is to help residents move on to employment and “regular” housing. Transitional housing programs usually provide some kind of supportive services.
Permanent supportive housing provides safe, supportive housing for people who may not be able to live on their own, often due to some kind of disability.
Most people in transitional housing graduated into permanent housing during the two-year period of the study. Fewer than half of the supportive housing residents had graduated to permanent, independent housing by the end of the study. About one-third of transitional housing residents and one-fourth of permanent housing residents had a job during the three months after they left the programs. Their average incomes were low — about $12,000 per year.
People who experience chronic homelessness, and who have long-term disabilities including chronic mental health problems and/or alcoholism do best in permanent supportive housing, “the low-demand model with strong assurances of stability.”
“People with fewer barriers to self-sufficiency” do well in transitional housing, which provides both expectations and support for success.
We know what to do. We need the will and the money to do it.