After reading the Honorable Ron Simmons op-ed on December 14th in the Dallas Morning News and duplicated here, I felt compelled to write a response. First, I want to thank the former Representative for highlighting the fact that far too often and at far too young, people experiencing homelessness pass away in Texas. On December 21st, Homeless Persons Memorial Day, we reflect on those lives lost. A number that we know is in the hundreds, at least. We know that housing is the best solution to preventing those experiencing homelessness from dying on the streets. Evidence shows that housing first, then working on other needed support services, is best for our neighbors.
What is “Housing First” anyway? “Housing First” prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.
The article seems to link increases in unsheltered homelessness with a rise in the utilization of a “Housing First” approach. This is not a cause-and-effect relationship. In truth, there are myriad reasons why people fall into homelessness, the biggest being the large deficit of truly affordable housing.
This op-ed also contains statements that need correction. It was stated that officials proposed that wholly defunding assistance, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, so all funding is directed to housing subsidies, would be an effective way to end homelessness. No leader working to end homelessness has suggested that “wholly defunding” services to only fund housing subsidies is a sound strategy. Priority is given to programs matching housing and services, and homeless response systems work to weave all available funding to provide comprehensive assistance. Also, there was a reference suggesting services needed to treat mental and physical health needs or that accountability was discouraged by providers in “Housing First” programs. No policy supports this. Those working to end homelessness would encourage any client they work with to do whatever it takes to fight their way out of homelessness.
“Housing First,” or what many would place into the “Housing First” category, Permanent Housing programs, are 16% of all shelter and housing provided in Texas. The op-ed and the video linked in the article advocate more services are needed and a variety of programming, and I couldn’t agree more. But, to argue that using “Housing First” is not helping people meet their ‘real’ needs is a step backward. We need more “Housing First” programs – not fewer- because they do end homelessness.
“Housing First” is a strategy that prioritizes our neighbor’s needs, and decades of research shows it’s the most effective way to end homelessness and increase our unhoused neighbors’ health and well-being. On Homelessness Memorial Day and every day, we need to remain focused on finding more ways, not fewer, to prevent and end homelessness.