Housing First Yields High Success and Creates Real Hope: A Message from Laura Green Zeilinger

Housing First Yields High Success and Creates Real Hope: A Message from Laura Green Zeilinger

The Obama Administration fully supports and calls for the adoption of Housing First across all communities—as something that is not just good to do, but as something that we must do to reach our goals.

The adoption of Housing First isn’t based on an ideological debate between Housing First and housing readiness; it’s based on overwhelming evidence that Housing First yields higher housing retention rates, lower returns to homelessness, and significantly reduces the use of crisis services and institutions. Because of its proven success, Housing First is a core strategy of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness

Simply put, communities that implement Housing First across their systems make the most progress on homelessness. New Orleans has reduced overall homelessness by 83 percent.  Phoenix made a huge shift towards the adoption of Housing First, resulting in a 47 percent decrease in chronic homelessness, ending chronic homelessness among Veterans. And Houston has driven down homelessness by nearly 40 percent. These are just to name a few.

Although some communities remain unaware of Housing First’s overwhelming success, I honestly do not believe this is our greatest challenge.  The challenge is really two things.

  1. There is often not a common understanding of what Housing First is. People who think they are “doing it” are really not.  For example, some programs offer housing only if a person goes to treatment first. Or sometimes a program offers housing but not services, and when retention rates slip because people are not provided with the well-being services they need to maintain stable housing, the program is pointed to as proof that Housing First doesn’t work in that community.
  2. Communities stop after implementing one or two Housing First programs, rather than working toward a housing first approach that operates across all of the program models in a community.

To navigate these challenges, USICH is committed to providing clarity on what Housing First means, at both the project and community level.   

That’s why USICH developed the Housing First Checklist, a simple tool that provides needed clarity on what is and what is not Housing First.  We created it for communities to assess their own approaches, and to engage in local conversations about how to make sure their response to homelessness is reaching and benefiting the most vulnerable people and helping them to permanently exit homelessness. Please use it.

We know we will only end homelessness nationally if we end it locally. We know that Housing First is critical to our success. To end homelessness in your community, we need your help in three ways:

  • Educate your leaders about the overwhelming evidence behind Housing First’s effectiveness in ending homelessness and reducing the use of costly crisis services. 
  • Adopt Housing First within your programs and across your entire community response to homelessness. 
  • Push towards the goal of ending homelessness in your community.  Set goals, manage to those goals, remove barriers, and target resources to the most vulnerable people with the highest need. 

Housing First is a large part of how, together, we are changing the trajectory of homelessness. By doing so, we are creating real hope for people who have suffered for too long.  In communities where Housing First is broadly implemented, you will find people who now have new hope after years of giving up on believing that they would ever get off of the street.  When they see others who lived on the street for years move into safe, stable housing, they understand that it is now possible for them, too.  And when people have a reason to hope, they accomplish things no one thought possible.