Depending on the outcome of the presidential election, a bipartisan housing strategy for people experiencing homelessness could be rolled back.
Late last month, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made a stop in Austin to reveal a strategy for dealing with homelessness that would scale back an approach known as Housing First. Housing First gets people who are homeless into permanent housing quickly, without barriers such as completion of substance abuse treatment programs.
Cossy Hough is assistant dean for undergraduate programs and a clinical associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Steve Hicks School of Social Work. She specializes in homeless services and policy, and other issues related to poverty. Hough told Texas Standard that Housing First is based on the idea that people need to be housed before they can make other positive changes in their lives, like battling addiction or finding employment.
“Housing First is being used by most major cities in Texas,” Hough said.
The Trump administration hasn’t released specific changes to the Housing First plan, but Hough says there has been discussion of requiring people experiencing homelessness to be sober or to have a job before being offered housing.
Hough acknowledges that Housing First can be expensive to implement. But, she says, it’s effective.
“It has been shown to be effective in several areas in the United States, most notably Seattle and Massachusetts,” Hough said.
In addition to improving outcomes for people who are no longer homeless, Hough said Housing First has led to reduced costs for emergency services and crisis and mental health treatment.
In Texas, Hough says utilizing Housing First with veterans has been effective in reducing levels of homelessness. In Austin, almost 100% of homeless veterans have been housed, she says.