One State is on Track to End Homelessness With an Ingenious Idea: Give Them Homes

November 24th 2014

Two weeks ago, a 90-year-old man made headlines for being arrested in Fort Lauderdale after attempting to feed the homeless. Stephen Colbert picked up the story. It then got shared everywhere. This particular incident, however, is only a microcosm of how our nation disregards the plight of the needy.  

According to new a report from the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged to an all-time high, amounting to one in thirty

While a multitude of socio-economic issues cause homelessness (growing economic inequality, lack of affordable housing, neighborhood gentrification, mental illness etc), frequently more cities are treating it as a criminal problem, sweeping the homeless off the streets and into prisons.

As the video below notes, "In 2014, 100 cities banned sitting or lying down in public places" - a law which allows police to arrest people purely because they don't have a home. Since a criminal record makes it even harder to find gainful employment, these policies are clearly counter-intuitive. 

Lloyd Pendleton, the director of Utah Homeless Task Force, explains that in Salt Lake City it costs, "about $20,000 per person, per year, on the street, because of [a chronic use of] emergency services... so when we realized we were incurring those costs anyway, [it became evident] there's a much more humane and economic way in order to meet their needs."

The answer? A "housing first" model, regardless of pre-conditions (such as staying sober, getting medical help, finding a job, etc). In Utah, not only did this solution cost remarkably less annually ($7,800) but also yielded impressive results: a 72% decrease in chronic homelessness from 2005. The premise is built on giving people the basic right of shelter to encourage them to make positive lifestyle changes, as opposed to rewarding them with shelter if (and only if) they suddenly decide to eschew their addictions. Hopefully, Utah's example will lead the way for other states to start adapting similar programs, instead of adding to America's growing mass incarceration problem.

To learn more about America's addiction to prison, click here