NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 19, 2007

The Bush White House is putting substantial effort and resources (over $4 billion annually) into proving it can help urban street homelessness through better programs, says Julia Vitullo-Martin, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The need to shift directions in strategy comes from the problems homelessness continues to create:

  • The chronic homeless (those who've lived on the streets for more than a year) make up about 10 percent of the two million or so Americans regarded as homeless.
  • They regularly consume a disproportionate amount of public resources -- sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars per person.
  • They also often wreak disproportionate havoc on both commercial areas and residential neighborhoods -- inducing compassion fatigue even in usually tolerant cities like New York and San Francisco.

The new White House-sponsored programs move away from the traditional "bowl of soup and a blanket" methods, to provide better, more economically feasible results, says Vitullo-Martin.  For example:

  • Supportive housing -- as opposed to shelters -- are becoming popular; studies show that a $12,000-per-year supportive housing unit was far more effective in keeping people off the street than a $35,000-per-year shelter bed.
  • One example, called Housing First, does not require psychiatric or substance-abuse training as a qualification for housing, but does require strict rules concerning behavior.
  • Increased counseling has also worked; one model, Ready, Willing and Able (RWA) councils and trains many that have previously been homeless for substantial periods, most of whom are out of prison or jail, don't have an education, and do have substance abuse problems.
  • In Atlanta, the RWA model has helped 60 formerly chronically homeless people move into housing and employment, at a savings to the city of about $1 million.

Source: Julia Vitullo-Martin, "Homeless In America," Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2007.

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