How a Housing First Approach to Homelessness Saves Money and Lives


Housing First is an approach that manages to combat homelessness and save healthcare costs at the same time. The main idea behind the program is to make housing the first priority for the chronic homeless population. It’s a simple solution that is making an enormous impact.

The Housing First approach

Under the tenets of housing first, organizations seek out housing for the chronic or long-term homeless population. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the idea behind the approach is that gaining a stable living situation is the first step toward recovering from other issues. Previous approaches to solving homelessness focused first on symptoms such as substance abuse and illness. When homeless people have access to stable housing, they are better able to focus on their other problems.

Under the new paradigm, individuals gain access to housing with no questions asked. They are not required to comply with services provided and there is no time limit on the housing. Moreover, they are likely to remain in their housing. A 2000 study published in Psychiatric Services found that 88 percent of a sample group of homeless individuals placed in housing through Housing First remained in their housing after five years, compared with just 47 percent of the residents in the city’s residential treatment system.

While it might seem like housing would be the most costly part of the homelessness problem, the approach actually saves money.

The high costs of homelessness

Over time, the costs associated with caring for the chronic homeless can add up. Chronically homeless individuals require a lot of specialized services, from shelter beds to emergency room visits. Providing immediate housing works to remove some of these needs over time.

A study from University of California, Los Angeles, found placing just four chronically homeless individuals in permanent housing saved the city more than $80,000 annually. Public services spent almost $200,000 on the four individuals over two years in the street. These costs dropped more than $20,000 for each person once they had been relocated to stable housing situations. In a city like Los Angeles, with one of the largest homeless populations in the U.S., this approach can make an enormous impact.

According to a study cited by National Alliance to End Homelessness, a Housing First approach also reduces costs related to mental health services. In Portland, Maine, homeless individuals were provided with housing, and cost of their psychiatric care dropped 79 percent over the course of six months. Overall, costs related to their care fell 57 percent.

Providing long-term housing for chronically homeless individuals is a win for everyone involved. Homeless individuals have a space to deal with many of their other issues and work toward a better life. In the meanwhile, organizations save money on their care.

Another crucial component to this equation is empowering organizations with the right tools to provide high-quality care to individuals placed through Housing First approaches. Software solutions like ClientTrack Case Management can help organizations more effectively care for homeless individuals and track crucial data related to their care.

Join us in Portland, Oregon May 31 – June 3 for the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference & Policy Symposium. Healthcare for the Homeless (HCH) professionals will come together to discuss:

  • Unique elements of the HCH approach to patient care
  • Examples from the HCH community of efforts to maintain clinical quality, consumer participation, and interdisciplinary approaches in clinical care
  • The systemic realities of barriers to care and methods to remove those barriers at clinic and community levels
  • Technology innovations to improve care for the homeless

For more information:

Los Angeles County-ClientTrack Housing for Health

Housing Homeless Improves Community and Costs

Case Management Improves Chronically Homeless Population

Health Care and Supportive Housing

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