Housing First Reduces Crime and Improves Employment Outcomes for the Homeless — The Denver VOICE

By Robert Davis

A new working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found that Housing First programs – which provide housing assistance without preconditions – reduce crime rates and improve employment outcomes for homeless people.

This comes as homelessness continues to grow across the country. According to the latest Point in Time Count, more than 580,000 people are homeless on any given night, an increase of 3% from the previous year. According to federal data, an additional 1.4 million Americans use homeless services in September 2020, and more than 1.3 million college students are classified as homeless under the McKinney Vento Act.

“Taken together, these findings have important implications for policy debates about the eligibility, duration and targeting of Housing First support for homeless people,” said Elior Cohen, an economist at the Kansas City Fed and report author.

the paper analyzed outcomes for homeless single adults ages 25 and younger in Los Angeles County who receive housing assistance first to those who did not. The dataset was compiled by linking administrative records from local sheriff’s departments, health services and other public service agencies.

According to the paper, short-term Housing First programs, which last 18 months or less, have tended to produce favorable outcomes such as reduced crime and improved health, employment and income much faster than long-term programs.

However, long-term programs, which last between 19 and 30 months, tend to produce “significantly greater effects in terms of the magnitude of future homelessness,” the paper says.

Cohen said there were two reasons for the difference in results. The first is that many people who are placed in long-term programs work with case managers, who often work to solve a multitude of problems simultaneously. The second reason is that there is simply more time for people to reconnect with the homeless service sector throughout the duration of the program.

Housing First programs have also produced a host of non-housing benefits for participants, regardless of duration, Cohen said.

For example, short-term Housing First programs – also known as rapid rehousing – have dropped individual arrest rates by 95%. Reliance on cash benefits also fell by 80% and use of social services fell by 35%, according to the newspaper.

Short-term Housing First programs also produced a $715 increase in the average monthly income of program participants after 18 months, compared to an increase of $640 per month after 30 months.

“These results are more descriptive in nature…since the random assignment in this study is for any Housing First program and not for the type of Housing First program,” Cohen said.

The paper also revealed that Housing First programs are a cost-effective way for municipalities to address homelessness. He estimates that the average cost of direct utility services is around $83,000 per homeless person, although national and local estimates vary widely.

In total, Cohen calculated that Housing First program costs are often offset by direct savings to utility agencies within 18 months. Savings also come from a multitude of sources such as reduced use of homeless services, reduced public health and crime costs, and improved employment outcomes.

Cohen said many municipalities could see even more significant results because his calculation “ignores[s] the indirect benefits of reducing street homelessness.

“These benefits are likely to accrue over time and become more significant as the cost of roaming increases exponentially over time,” Cohen said.

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