Changing our approach to homelessness

Speaker to discuss the merits of Utah’s housing first model

The author is a member of CHAT, an organization working to ensure that everyone in our community has access to housing.

Just like Mark Twain supposedly said about the weather, everybody complains about the homeless crisis, “but nobody does anything about it.”

But that isn’t true of all places. Utah, for example, has managed to reduce chronic homelessness by 91 percent in about 10 years. Chronically homeless people are those who have been homeless for more than a year, and who have mental health issues.

According to an April 17, 2015, Washington Post article by Terrance McCoy, Utah decided to try a “surprisingly simple, cost-effective method [to address homelessness] … Give homes to the homeless.” This is known as the “housing first” model, which experts in the field now consider the most promising solution to chronic homelessness.

Although some might think this would be an expensive plan, Utah discovered that homelessness is actually more expensive than getting people into housing. The state found it was spending about $20,000 annually on each chronically homeless person. It now saves about $8,000 per person annually by providing housing (and services) to those who were previously homeless.

Chronically homeless people often suffer from poor health, and they frequently require emergency-room care and have a disproportionate number of law enforcement interactions. Locally, additional expenses related to homelessness include cleaning up our creekside areas, parks and downtown. There are financial impacts on our local businesses as well.

Wanting to learn more about Utah’s model, our community has invited the former director of that state’s Homeless Task Force to speak in Chico. Lloyd Pendleton, who was instrumental in implementing Utah’s housing first plan, will discuss the successes there. Old approaches have not worked, and a housing first approach could save a substantial amount of money for our communities while reducing the human cost of homelessness and making Chico a more business-friendly and attractive place to live.

Mr. Pendleton will speak at 1 p.m. on Oct. 10, World Homeless Day, at Bidwell Presbyterian Church (208 W. First St. in Chico) and at 5-7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Southside Oroville Community Center (2959 Lower Wyandotte Road). We hope community members will attend and learn about implementing some real, proven solutions.