We’ve made significant progress in our national effort to end chronic homelessness.

But our progress is slowing. There were an estimated 83,170 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness on our streets and in our shelters on a single night in January 2015 — a slim 1% decrease from the previous year.

We must consider this reduced momentum a call to action — not only to the communities that must work harder in identifying, engaging, and prioritizing these vulnerable people in permanent supportive housing, but also to leaders at the federal, state, and local levels who can make the additional investments needed to solve this problem.

The Problem

Among people who experience homelessness, there is a subset of individuals with disabling health conditions who remain homeless for long periods of time — some for years or decades. These men and women experiencing chronic homelessness commonly have a combination of mental health problems, substance use disorders, and medical conditions that worsen over time and too often lead to an early death. Without connections to the right types of care, they cycle in and out of hospital emergency departments and inpatient beds, detox programs, jails, prisons, and psychiatric institutions, all at high public expense. Some studies have found that leaving a person to remain chronically homeless costs taxpayers as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per year.

The Solution

The solution to chronic homelessness is an intervention known as permanent supportive housing, which combines affordable housing and a tailored package of supportive services that help people achieve housing stability, get connected to health care and other social services, and improve their health and social outcomes. Study after study has shown that permanent supportive housing not only ends homelessness for people with the most severe challenges, but also reduces the use of emergency services and lowers public costs.

Our Strategy

The Interagency Working Group on Ending Chronic Homelessness has developed a strategy to end chronic homelessness in 2017 by increasing the availability of permanent supportive housing, and helping communities engage and more rapidly connect individuals experiencing chronic homelessness to available units. The strategy includes leveraging opportunities to increasing the role of Medicaid in covering housing-related services and behavioral health supports.

This strategy involves five components:

  1. Leverage existing targeted homeless programs and mainstream housing and health care resources to expand permanent supportive housing.
  2. Ensure that communities are prioritizing their new and existing permanent supportive housing to people experiencing chronic homelessness with the most severe challenges.
  3. Connect permanent supportive housing to street outreach, shelter, and institutional “in-reach” that can identify and engage people experiencing chronic homelessness.
  4. Lower barriers to housing entry through community-wide adoption of Housing First.
  5. Seek additional resources from Congress to create 25,500 new units of permanent supportive housing. Source

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