Barb’d Wire: Housing First.

Barb’d Wire : Housing First                 by Ralph Gagliardo.


    Social experiments across the nation are supporting the idea that housing first, as a model for reducing the numbers of chronically homeless, while sharply cutting the long term cost associated with them, really seems to work. Money dictates policy, and if cities large and small can save a few bucks, then the funding should a no-brainer. Of course we all know that nothing in gov’t is ever that simple, and whether it works or not, may be irrelevant. In my view, however, there is nothing to left to debate. The proof is in the results I have seen firsthand, in the dramatic turnaround of some of Hartford chronically homeless after they have been housed. I won’t name names…they know who they are.

    Allow me to quote on man who was homeless for approximately four years, before getting housing through this type of program, he said “ I never realized the kind of mental stress I was carrying around at all times, until after I got housed”. He went on to say that for the first three weeks he still had nightmares from the mental defenses he built up while struggling to survive on the mean streets for so long. Just take a moment and imagine how frightening it can actually be to be living day to day with constant uncertainty, and no stability from one day to the next.

    This is only one person’s testimony, but it still opens the window to the realities, and mental stresses, homeless people face all the time. I know of others, whose demeanor, hygiene, and even their personalities almost seemed to change overnight…after being housed. It is a beautiful sight to behold, when a person who has struggled for so long, get’s their own key, that goes to the lock on their very own apartment door.

    I will let the sociologist and policy makers debate the who, what, where, and why, of the financial and societal benefits if they choose to do so, as for my part, I will share my first observation. You see, I also know happen to know that studies do show two common factors that cut through, homelessness, recidivism, and addiction/recovery, and as it turns out the two factors are very closely connected.   

The first one has to do with feelings of connectedness. The more connected a person feels to others, statistics show, the more likely they are to succeed in overcoming one or all of these conditions. Pretty self-explanatory-I would say.

     The second factor is the one I am focusing on, and only because of my desire to play better poker. You see, it is one of those simple rules of behavior that every card shark, worth half his chip stack, is very well aware of. The rule is simple: The majority of the time, a person is more afraid to lose what he/she already has, and will not risk it, even for potential gain. In the retail industry it has a name “the endowment effect”. In simple terms, people view the world a little different when they feel like they have something to lose. It is like all of a sudden they have a reason to pay a little closer attention.

    Even in the solitary confinement blocks of some of the country’s toughest prisons, they understand this basic principle. Since some of their guest really did have nothing to lose, other than their prison life, they had to seek newer ideas on ways to reduce the number of inmates in segregation, they often found that by letting them get a taste of a certain luxury and exposing them to a sample of the benefits of staying out of seg. than they might be inclined to act accordingly. This was part of a successful program aimed at reducing the number of inmates in segregation, or solitary, and serves to emphasize the point. Recidivism studies show this as well. The more the parolees had to lose, the less likely they were to violate. Same also held true for terrorism suspects: When they were tortured the information was often unreliable, but when they gave prisoners some simple things, simple benefits, the net effect was one of gaining trust and the prisoners were often more cooperative, leading to more dependable intel.

     All these examples point to the same basic principle, and it does have a whole lot to do with trust. The chronically homeless, are folks who have not generally had the best experiences navigating the process or getting on the long section 8 list. They often will need help with things like getting proper I.D., filling out paperwork for E.B.T. or S.S.I., and many of them will have stories of promises they felt were not kept by these or other institutions. They will be skeptical, and for good reason.

    By taking the initiative and offering the chronically homeless housing first and foremost, it does a lot more for that individual than just putting a roof over their head, it changes the way they feel about life, restores their faith in the goodness of people, gives them a chance to restore their mental health, makes the feel invested in the community, and gives them something to care about…something to lose, and since nobody likes to lose what they already feel they own, they will generally take the actions necessary to protect and maintain that stake.

    The state’s idea is that it saves money just on trips to the E.R. alone, which is a costly and often unnecessary burden for taxpayers. Whatever the logic they choose to use to justify the upfront cost associated with these type of models– they need to keep using it. Housing first works. I don’t need any fancy statistics…I can see it in the faces…and the smiles…of the recipients of these initiatives. They are grateful; they have reason to hope.