greg (grysar) wrote,

Apparent good news for handling chronic homelessness

The New York Times today had an article on a Housing first program for homeless that seems to work (Free reg required). The basic idea is to first get people in apartments and then try to help them find a job, deal with addictions, and get other services. Unlike public housing, with its notorious drawbacks, the program works at the apartment level rather than the building level.

"Many of the early starters are reporting turnarounds. In Philadelphia, street dwellers have declined 60 percent over five years. In San Francisco, the number of the chronic homeless is down 28 percent in two years, in Dallas 26 percent and in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., 15 percent...

Part of the credit, Mr. Hess and others said, goes to Philip F. Mangano, a Bush appointee who has spent five years visiting every mayor and governor he can, brandishing successful examples, cost-benefit studies and his own messianic fervor along with modest amounts of federal money."

There are critics: "Some "tough-love" groups have opposed housing first, saying that without more discipline, addicts will never succeed. But in experiments around the country, 80 percent or more of those housed participants remained in their quarters after a year."

"Tough love" and "discipline" are all well in good. However, they're also a form of ideology. What matters is whether the program is successful at helping people get their life together. It seems like this one is.

Although, the New York version of the program has taken more criticism. Some of the apartments are apparently crappy to the point of violating health and safety regulations. But that's what those regulations are for, so tougher enforcement would seem to be a logical solution. Although a certain amount of apartment crappiness is probably unavoidable unless the program lets people find better apartments for themselves at the same price. A more boneheaded flaw is that in this version, the transition to work is apparently penalized rather than supported: "But she said she quit the job after a Department of Homeless Services caseworker told her that she could not continue to work and receive the rental assistance." That's just effing stupid.

I realize that transitions cost more in the short term. But how the hell does anyone, liberal or conservative, not realize that safety net programs need to reward and not punish those who start working? Yeah, the subsidy should drop off, but earning an extra dollar should always result in having more resources at the end of the day.
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