Doing What Works
Over the past three decades, weve learned a lot about homelessness.
The most important lesson is that in almost every case,
homelessness isnt an intractable problem, but one that can be
solved with the right tools and approaches.
Second, weve learned that one size doesnt fit all: different
populations have different needs that sometimes require very
different solutions. For instance, where a veteran returning from
Afghanistan might need treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder
to stay stably housed, the solution to homelessness for a family
may be something as simple as paying a security deposit or a
At a time when we should be using every taxpayer dollar as
effectively and efficiently as possible, we need to focus our
resources on doing what workson evidence-based solutions that have
been tried, tested, and have produced results. The two approaches
that have shown the most success for the largest number of people
are permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing.
Permanent Supportive Housing
Over the last five years, and beginning with the Bush
administration, the emergence of permanent supportive
housinghousing connected with health and social serviceshas
literally changed the face of homelessness in many communities.
Working in collaboration with the federal government, localities
have created thousands of units of permanent supportive housing and
reduced the number of chronically homeless people across the nation
by more than a third.
The number of beds for permanent supportive housing has increased
by 34 percent since 2007. Because affordable housing with necessary
services generally costs less than those associated with multiple
emergency room visits and stays in jail, this shift in focus to
permanent supportive housing has saved significant money for the
Armed with this proven success, HUD, with support from President
Obama and Congress, has made an unprecedented commitment to
permanent supportive housing to end homelessness for people with
severe disabilities and long histories of homelessness.
Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing
Another proven solution to ending homelessness that weve embraced
is the combination of prevention and rapid re-housing. In 2009, the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created the Homeless
Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP), and earlier this
year, the program marked an important milestone, saving more than 1
million people from homelessness.
HPRP has helped homeless men and women transition into permanent
supportive housingoften providing those at risk of homelessness
with something as simple as a security deposit. For the majority of
the people assisted by HPRP to date, it was the programs ability to
help them find or stabilize housing arrangements quickly and
effectively that made the difference.
Grantees report that fully 90 percent of people assisted by HPRP in
its first year successfully found permanent housing. In a state
like Michigan, 94 percent of homeless persons in rapid re-housing
didnt fall back into homelessness. Thats an impressive record.
Weve seen similar successes across the country. These funds have
helped speed progress in states like Utah, which over the last few
years has invested in permanent supportive housinghelping reduce
chronic homelessness by nearly 70 percent since 2005. By targeting
its HPRP resources to rapid re-housing, Utah was able to reduce
chronic homelessness an astounding 26 percent over the last year
In addition, HPRP introduced a new federal commitment to help
people avoid homelessness altogether. According to the report, more
than three out of every four people assisted by HPRP received
homelessness prevention services.
While the lives of those who were homeless or at risk of
homelessness have been helped dramatically by the HPRP approach,
just as significant is how HPRP is fundamentally changing the way
communities respond to homelessness, as the U.S. Conference of
Mayors put it.
For instance, Clevelands Continuum of Care program is using HPRP
funds to create a central intake system that provides customized
services to those entering the shelter system. This helps the
community not only manage beds and services more effectively but
also ensures that households are transitioning to permanent housing
as quickly as possible.
Cleveland provides a good example of how a federal program like
HPRP is helping communities move from fragmented, duplicative
programs to a comprehensive 21st century system that targets
resources to those most in neednot with top-down rules, but with
flexible tools from the ground up.
Photo by 62nd Airlift Wing
Using Existing Resources More Effectively
In times of economic uncertainty, existing resources often fail to
match the scale of need. Again, getting better results is not
necessarily about more resources, its about using the resources we
already have better and smarter.
In addition to using HUD resources that already target our homeless
population, we are reaching out to our Public Housing Agency (PHA)
partners and our private and non-profit assisted housing sponsors
to guide and support them to become full partners in the effort to
We are encouraging peer-to-peer mentoring by PHAs that are already
deeply involved in the effort to end homelessness in their
communities. Plus, we are working with federal partners to improve
coordination between social service agencies and PHAs to ensure
formerly homeless residents have the support they need to stay in
their new homes and maintain their health.
But using resources more effectively isnt only about doing more
with less. Just as often, it is also about small investments that
yield big savings. One study, reported in the Journal of the
American Medical Association, centered on Seattles 1811 Eastlake
supportive housing project. Researchers examined 75 of the centers
chronically homeless residentshalf of whom had serious mental
illness and all of whom struggled with alcohol addiction. In the
year before participants in the program entered supportive housing,
the 75 residents collectively spent more than 1,200 days in jail,
and visited the local medical center more than 1,100 times at a
cost to Medicaid of more than $3.5 million.