The Last Days of Housing First?

Albert Goodwin: Apocalypse. Image by Wikimedia Commons

Regular readers of Opp Now have noticed that SJ’s Housing First orthodoxy—in which the solution to basically all civic problems is new, free, subsidized, no-barrier housing costing $1m/unit—is finally giving way to saner, faster, more efficient interim shelter solutions. It’s even happening at the statewide level, reports the indispensable Katy Grimes in California Globe: Assembly Bill 2417 is calling to increase funding flexibility for treatment and service-oriented programs by repealing [Editor’s note: you read that right] the State’s existing one-size-fits-all “Housing First” approach to homelessness.

Assemblymen Josh Hoover and Joe Patterson announced Assembly Bill 2417 “to expand and improve California’s response to our state’s homelessness crisis. 

This bill is important… So what does the “Beyond Housing” bill do?

According to the bill’s authors:

It “eliminates the state’s one-size-fits-all approach to homelessness by allowing treatment as a potential option rather than the strict Housing First policy. This would allow state agencies and departments to distribute homeless funds to entities that require mental health and drug treatment for homeless individuals to remain in the program. Ultimately, this will reduce homelessness, crime, squalor, and pressure on local services, when billions in taxpayer money has already been squandered.”

This means that the failed “Housing First” policy this state has spent billions on is… well… a failure – except for the contractors refurbishing and building the “housing” for the homeless.

It is notable that several states with high housing costs have low homelessness – something which rankles “housing first” advocates who continue to insist the hundreds of thousands of drug addicts living on the streets, parks, beaches, rivers and golf courses in California would not be there if they could afford housing, even calling the drug-addicted homeless the “unhoused.”

The Globe has covered the homeless crisis extensively and note that focusing only on housing rather than what’s really at the root of homelessness – drug addiction and mental illness – is merely Democrats controlling the language rather than solving the homeless crisis.

As Assemblymen Hoover and Patterson explain in detail:

The federal government, California, and many other state and local governments favor Housing First policies. This approach emphasizes immediately placing those experiencing homelessness in “permanent” housing, with the idea that access to supportive services will follow. It also includes a harm reduction philosophy, but which still allows people to continue to abuse substances. In practice, however, services are either not provided to or utilized by residents. As a result, the underlying traumas and issues that led to residents’ homelessness remain unaddressed and many return to the streets. 

People experience homelessness for many reasons and respond differently to various treatment approaches. While Housing First may work in some situations, it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution. Yet, that is the approach California has taken. In 2015, the state made it official policy to only fund Housing First programs with the passage of SB 1380 (Mitchell). As a result, successful programs that require Treatment First approaches go without state funding.  

Perhaps worst of all:

To date, $20 billion in taxpayer money has been used to support a failed policy that has been largely ineffective. Housing First is in stark contrast to the transitional housing approach, under which temporary housing is provided and residents are expected to stay sober or employed and participate in certain support services until they are ready to obtain permanent housing. Today, programs that require residents to remain drug-free are ineligible for state grants and put at a competitive disadvantage, despite their proven effectiveness.

Their bill “repeals Housing First requirements to allow state programs that are funded, implemented, or administered by a California state agency or department to incorporate Treatment First policies. The state needs more flexibility in funding options to reduce homelessness, crime, and improve safety and commerce.”

This article originally appeared in the California Globe. Read the whole thing here.


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