Housing First promotes the notion that all that is needed to end homelessness is to provide every homeless person with a permanent home. The problem with this reasoning is that it assumes that the homeless are a fixed set of people. Research, however, indicates that people move in and out of homelessness. For the most part, people experiencing homelessness are not homeless for long and new individuals and families become homeless all the time.
No studies exist to demonstrate a clear causal relationship between Housing First and reduced numbers of homeless. (An explanation of homeless count decreases can be found here.) Providing the homeless with a permanent house, who could have become housed otherwise, does not reduce the number of homeless.
Providing permanent housing to even the most chronic is a broad-brush means of addressing homelessness. It is a challenge to know who is best suited for a Housing First program and who will escape homelessness by some other means. Those specifically targeted by Housing First, individuals with drug addictions, mental health challenges, and long bouts of living on the streets, may not be suitable for certain programs – such as those that serve families with children.
A recent study demonstrates that some chronically homeless return to the streets after being given permanent housing. It seems a few of the most seriously mentally ill and those with the longest amounts of time spent on the streets preferred the street to housing.
The biggest challenge is the impact Housing First permanent housing could have on dependency. Once given permanent housing, some people may abandon or reduce efforts to escape homelessness on their own. Although HUD calls those that live in permanent housing no longer homeless, the public still pays for their housing and services.
The bottom line that city managers and elected officials want to know is if implementing Housing First will result in a reduction of the homeless. Two studies, one in 2015 and the other in 2014, used community-based data to measure the impact that more permanent supportive housing has on homeless counts. Both studies showed that for every one permanent supportive housing bed added, the number of chronically homeless individuals reduced 0.12 and 0.07 respectively. The implementation of Housing First, therefore, has not resulted in a clear reduction of the homeless in general, or, specifically, for the chronically street homeless.