Proven Solutions to the Problem of Homelessness

Coalition for the Homeless advances proven solutions to the problem of homelessness.  In the three decades since modern homelessness began, research and experience have shown that investments in proven, housing-based approaches can genuinely reduce homelessness.  Indeed, many of the most successful housing-based policies -- in particular, permanent supportive housing for individuals living with mental ilness and other special needs -- were pioneered in New York City and have been replicated throughout the United States.  A growing body of academic research has consistently confirmed that long-term housing assistance not only successfully reduces homelessness -- it is also cost-effective. 

Following is a summary of four of the proven housing-based solutions to the problem of homelessness:

1.  Affordable Housing Assistance Reduces Family Homelessness

Academic research and experience have shown time and again that providing long-term affordable housing assistance to homeless families reduces family homelessness.  In particular, Federal housing vouchers (known as Housing Choice Vouchers or Section 8 vouchers) -- which allow low-income households to rent modest market-rate housing -- provide a flexible subsidy that adjusts with the family's income over time. Studies consistently show that Federal housing vouchers are highly successful at reducing family homelessness as well as reducing return visits to shelter.

To learn more about the success of affordable housing assistance for homeless families, read the following:


2.  Permanent Supportive Housing for People Living with Mental Illness and Other Special Needs

Pioneered in New York City in the 1980s, permanent supportive housing has now proven to be a successful and cost-effective solution to the problem of homelessness.  Permanent supportive housing combines affordable housing assistance with vital support services for individuals living with mental illness, HIV/AIDS, or other serious health problems, and thus enhances housing stability for individuals and families with special needs.  Moreover, numerous research studies have shown that permanent supportive costs less than other forms of emergency and institutional care.  The landmark 1990 "New York/New York Agreement"-- which has since been renewed twice, most recently in 2005 -- is an example of a successful permanent supportive housing inititiative that reduced homelessness in New York City and saved taxpayer dollars that would otherwise have been spent on costly shelters and hospitalizations.

To learn more about the success of permanent supportive housing, read the following: 


3.  The "Housing First" Approach to Reducing Street Homelessness

Another proven solution developed in New York City and replicated nationwide is the "housing first" approach to street homelessness, which builds on the proven success of permanent supportive housing.  The "housing first" approach involves moving long-term street homeless individuals -- the majority of whom are living with mental illness, addiction disorders, and other serious health problems -- directly into subsidized housing and then linking them to support services, either on-site or in the community.  Research studies have found that the majority of long-term street homeless people moved into "housing first" apartments remain stably housed and experience significant imporvements in their health problems.  And like permanent supportive housing, the 'housing first" approach is far less costly than emergency and institutional care like shelters, hospitals, and correctional facilities.

To learn more about the success of the "housing first" approach, read the following: 


4.  Create and Preserve Affordable Housing

The fundamental cause of homelessness is the widening housing affordability gap.  In New York City that gap has widenedsignificantly over the past two decades, which have seen the loss of hundreds of thousands of units of affordable rental housing.  (Indeed, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, between 2002 and 2008 alone New York City lost more than 200,000 apartments affordable to low-income households.)  At the same time that housing affordability has worsened, government at every level has cut back on already inadequate housing assistance for low-income people, and has reduced investments in building and preserving affordable housing.  Finally, the weakening of rent regulation laws -- which help keep half of all rental apartments in New York City affordable -- has accelerated the loss of low-cost housing.  To address New York City's wide housing affordability gap, the Federal, State and City governments must significanlty increases investments in affordable rental housing, with a significant portion targeted to homeless families and individuals.  And New York must strengthen rent regulation laws to preserve affordable housing and protect tenants.

To learn more about the need to create and preserve affordable housing, read the following: