Alms to the poor. Homes to the homeless.

What a novel idea. Cure homelessness by giving those who lack shelter a home of their own. Of all places, that’s what Utah is doing, writes James Surowiecki of The New Yorker (paywall).

Housing First [the name of the Utah program] isn’t just cost-effective. It’s more effective, period. The old model assumed that before you could put people into permanent homes you had to deal with their underlying issues—get them to stop drinking, take their medication, and so on. Otherwise, it was thought, they’d end up back on the streets. But it’s ridiculously hard to get people to make such changes while they’re living in a shelter or on the street. “If you move people into permanent supportive housing first, and then give them help, it seems to work better,” Nan Roman, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Homelessness, told me. “It’s intuitive, in a way. People do better when they have stability.” Utah’s first pilot program placed seventeen people in homes scattered around Salt Lake City, and after twenty-two months not one of them was back on the streets. In the years since, the number of Utah’s chronically homeless has fallen by seventy-four per cent.

To boot, the program saves the local and state governments money, since Utah has found that it’s less expensive to put people in homes than provide the myriad services, including juridical. Salt Lake City discovered that it cost an average of $20,000 a year for such services. Housing First costs just $8,000 a year for each person, a savings of 64%.

But can’t you just hear the complaint: Why should a bum get a house when I can’t afford one?

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