The Denver Commission to End Homelessness has set a lofty goal. They are going to end homelessness in Denver within 10 years through an approach that is popular with other cities. The focus of their plan is “Housing First”. They believe that homelessness is caused by poverty. Therefore, if you give people a home, they will be able to solve their poverty.
A Rocky Mountain News editorial points out the problem with the program:
In Housing First, surprisingly, the homeless are not required to get treatment as a condition for housing, although the expectation is that they will once they are in a stable environment.
The housing first approach assumes that poverty leads to addiction. The Denver commision has it exactly backwards. The Rocky cites a well known Denver columnist’s who investigated the homeless issue. He concluded that although problems like batterings, unemployment, and medical issues were listed as the official cause of homelessness there was a common element behind these problems – substance abuse.
This is why government is not the solution to these problems. Giving people a place to live rent free without requiring them to seek treatment for their substance abuse will do nothing to solve the homeless problem. It was not poverty that lead to homelessness and substance abuse. It was substance abuse that led to poverty and homelessness. Housing First only perpetuates the problem by enabling people to sustain their substance abuse inside government housing. We are going to end up with a government program that uses tax dollars to sustain poverty rather than solve it.
This is why I am for more private and faith based intervention programs like Step 13 in Denver. They don’t take government money because the government will prevent them from requiring people to receive substance abuse treatment in their program.
Any program that hopes to be rehabilitate the homeless must first address substance abuse (or mental health) before it will be successful.