A very direct approach to the problem of homelessness – just give those who need them a place to live – continues to show great promise and draw acclaim more than a quarter century after it was put forth by a psychologist in New York City.
The program, Housing First, was developed by Sam Tsemberis, Ph.D., who was teaching at New York University in 1992 when the idea came to him: First, give the chronically homeless a place to live with no strings attached, then offer them supportive services – if they want them – to deal with underlying problems, such as addiction or mental illness.
If the benefactors of free housing show interest, they are given free counseling, therapy, health care and other necessities, again with no strings attached.
The New York project, funded by a $500,000 grant, proved successful, leading Tsemberis, a Greek Canadian, to organize the Pathways to Housing model that has demonstrated success in more than 300 cities worldwide, with 85 percent of occupants still living in the provided apartments after five years – compared to 60 percent in the next best model programs.
Other programs typically require a homeless person to first receive needed care, such as entering an addiction rehabilitation program, before being granted housing. Tsemberis found the homeless to be more amenable to treatment if they are first given the dignity of having a home.
A recent example of the success of Housing First was an article in the Santa Monica Mirror by a representative of SMa.r.t., Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Society.
The article, seeking support of local government leaders to adopt the Housing First strategy, pointed to two other recent successes:
*Salt Lake City, Utah, which is expanding the program after a test run proved effective for some of the city’s more than 2,000 homeless.
*Santa Clara County, Calif., which has housed 840 people in apartments and plans to house the remaining 6,000 homeless.
The model has been replicated in more than 40 cities across the U.S. and in major cities in Canada, Europe and Australia.
As more and more cities copied the strategy, Tsemberis, through Pathways Housing First (www.pathwayshousingfirst.org) prepared a manual to guide others in sticking to the strategies that have made the program a success.
The manual, Housing First, is published by Hazelton and is available through the Pathways Housing First website for $189.
The American Psychological Association recognized Tsemberis’s work at its 2016 annual convention in Denver, Colo., with the APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Independent Practice.