The Cape Fear region is now six years into the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness.
Local leaders say the numbers of the chronically homeless are dropping. That’s thanks in large part to a focus on prevention – and permanent supportive housing for people that have, for years, not been seriously considered as good housing candidates.
The thinking on the chronically homeless has traditionally gone like this: before someone can move into permanent supportive housing, they need to prove they can handle the responsibility by staying clean and sober.
But Dr. Dennis Culhane, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and an expert on the dynamics of homelessness, says requiring sobriety is not only a more expensive approach – it’s a failed one.
"If you’re going to require people to be clean and sober in order to get into the housing, they’re probably going to die on the street before they get into the housing."
And there’s a simple behavioral reason for why the “housing first” model works, says Culhane.
"People will fight very hard to hold on to what they have. They’ll do a lot more to keep what little they’ve got – more than they will change their behavior for some hoped-for thing that is down the road. People who are in housing and who’ve been homeless – they will work a lot harder on recovery to make sure that they can stay in that unit because they do not want to go back to being homeless."
The evidence also shows, he says, that a chronically homeless person costs taxpayers more in services like ambulances and hospitalizations when compared to the cost of housing.