Homelessness has always been an unfortunate fact of human existence. Mental health, drug addiction, financial troubles, family feuds, they all have their own role in the crisis. Someone will always find themselves without a roof over their heads. It may be hard to control the situations that lead to individual circumstances of homelessness, but we can take control over how we as a society handle homelessness once it has occurred. To do this we have to reassess how we look at and treat the victims of homelessness.
It’s vital that we address the issues that cause homelessness before we take action. Treating people with drug addiction and mental illness with impatience is, understandably, unlikely to work. Canada, like many countries, learned this lesson the hard way. They offered supportive housing to the homeless on the grounds that they became and remained sober, removing them from said housing if a relapse occurred. Of course, the problem just is not that simple and the system failed horribly, costing the taxpayer $7 billion annually with nothing to show for it.
Clear that this strategy wasn’t working, Canada took a bold step in the right direction. Realising that those affected by homelessness needed much more than they were being offered, they invested $110 million into researching a radical new idea known as “Housing First”. Housing First turned the system on its head, allowing for the wants and needs of the individuals to be understood and met, providing them with professional, personalised, one-on-one social support workers and an unconditional roof over their heads.
The program gave the homeless participants autonomy over their own lives. They were allowed to choose where they lived and were able to focus on self-improvements in their own time without the threat of being forced back onto the streets. Vitally, the program also gave them a chance to properly reintegrate into the community that they had been separated from for far too long.
The final report showed overwhelming successful results. They saw a radical decline in homelessness as well as a decrease in mental health and drug-related symptoms. Housing First also proved to be massively less expensive for the taxpayer. The average homeless person costing the Canadian public $120,000 a year under the old system but just $18,000 a year under the new one.
With such outstanding success, the program has started to spread, and not only in Canada. Similar programs have also started to pop up in the US and in Europe.
We are filled with excitement when we hear about stories like these at CMMNTY. Housing First is not just a big leap in the right direction, the project proves day by day that a new system of respect, patience, and understanding really can work, both for the individuals and society as a whole. We are proud to be working in collaboration with EMMAUS and to be a part of the growing understanding and support for homeless communities all over the globe.
Scott Nowlin, 60, was homeless for 20 years before he was given a home as part of Utah's Housing First program.
Take a look at the report on Housing First here: http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/mhcc_at_home_report_national_cross-site_eng_2_0.pdf
Also, have a look at the work of these great charities to get a proper understanding of just how vital the work of these programs:
Rain City Housing