Program Offers Free Housing to Homeless A new program is reducing homelessness by giving the homeless a free place to live. Officials are discovering that it actually saves money.
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Program Offers Free Housing to Homeless

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Program Offers Free Housing to Homeless

Program Offers Free Housing to Homeless

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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On a typical night in the United States, about two million people have no home to go to. Studies say that, for most, it's a temporary hard patch in their lives. But about 10 percent are chronically homeless. Most of these people are men who suffer some mental illness or substance abuse. They take up about half the beds in shelters and are regularly sent to jail or taken to hospital emergency rooms.

Some community activists decided that focusing on this group would be the most effective way to reduce homelessness. They found an innovative approach that's showing some remarkable results in some cities and passed an unusual degree of approval.

Philip Mangano is the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and joins us in our studios. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. PHILIP MANGANO (Executive Director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless ness): Thank you, Scott, for having me.

SIMON: And let's get you to tell us about what seemed like a new idea a couple of years ago. Instead of bed shelter, bowl of soup, a place to live.

Mr. MANGANO: Well, it is a radical notion, isn't it, that the central antidote to ending someone's homelessness would be providing them with a place to live. But I spent 20 years talking directly to homeless people and asking them what they wanted and it's consistent across our country, that's for one thing.

So we've tried to take federal policies in partner with states and localities in the business community and actually provide a place to live. One of the things that we've learned in the last several years in terms of doing some, of all things, cost-benefit analysis on homelessness is that, even though, we looked at this folk in the street, they look like they're not very costly, after all there they are lying on the sidewalk. They're actually randomly ricocheting into very expensive primary health. In other words, they go to the emergency room for their primary health care into substance abuse and mental health at the most expensive end of that.

Police interventions, court cost, periods of incarceration, when you add all of that up, we've discovered that providing a place to live and the stability of that, even when they are wrestling with the beginnings of their recovery, that's actually less expensive than leaving them out on the street.

SIMON: Now, does having housing permit them to make a dent on some of the other problems?

Mr. MANGANO: Oh, that's central to it for sure. What we know, of course, is that some of those folks have severe disabilities by virtue of addiction or mental illness or physical or developmental disability. So we've learned they need permanent housing would support services. The old way of attempting to deliver services when a person's on the street or living in a shelter, you can't do it more ineffectively or more expensively than that.

And what we're learning is when you provide, actually, stability and a place to live, that housing itself has a therapeutic impact on folk. Those of us who have never been homeless, we take our housing for granted. But for a homeless person, for the first time, they could actually relax. And when a person's relaxed in the setting of stability and security, they're much more amenable to receiving some of those mental health services or addiction services that they might have rejected had they been on the street.

SIMON: What do you say the big concern that some people have that by concentrating on housing first then the support services, you let people move into housing when they all have kinds of problems that aren't necessarily congenial for the neighbors?

Mr. MANGANO: Sure. And, I think, that's a legitimate concern, absolutely. My question is what's the alternative that they remained on the street and their health deteriorates, their psychological condition deteriorates.

SIMON: What do you think you're seeing some of the greatest success?

Mr. MANGANO: In the cities really, it's Mayor Daley in Chicago, Mayor Bloomberg in New York, Mayor Newsom in San Francisco. There are about two dozen cities now across our country who are two or two and a half years into their tenure plan and those two dozens cities range geographically and demographically. They're both big cities and small cities, literally coast to coast. In places like Dallas, Texas, have experienced two consecutive years of 20 percent reductions of people on the street, long-term in the shelters.

San Francisco long thought of as ground zero in terms of visible street homelessness in our country, in the two and a half years of the implementation of the their plan has seen a 38 percent reduction. Philadelphia, that's been doing it for about five years, has a 50 percent reduction.

I got a call from Portland, Oregon, a few weeks ago when I said we have a 70 percent reduction on the streets of Portland by implementing a business focused, result-oriented tenure plan. So when you talk to mayors around the country that are seeing these dramatic reductions, what they are talking about is literally ending people's homelessness, placing them in homes and providing stability there.

SIMON: Philip Mangano, executive director of U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Thank you.

Mr. MANGANO: Thank you for having me.

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