Homelessness is the type of uncomfortable issue that people either tend to ignore or accept as a fact of life. Our response as a society has been largely to try to manage the problem rather than solve it.
But there’s a growing body of evidence saying that homelessness is solvable, and that the cost of doing so is cheaper than the alternative. The approach is called “Housing First”—which means placing individuals or families in permanent housing and providing support services. Housing First makes economic sense because the homeless are a burden on emergency rooms and other public resources.
One study from North Carolina found that creating apartments for 85 formerly homeless cut hospital bills from $2.5 million to $760,000 and reduced arrests by 78%. Another from Colorado estimates the average homeless person costs the state $43,000 a year, compared to $17,000 for housing them.
Community Solutions, a New York City nonprofit, is a big advocate of Housing First. Its 100,000 Homes Campaign housed 105,000 people in less than four years, and it’s now working on eradicating homelessness among veterans.
Housing First is key to the group’s approach, but not the only way that Community Solutions is doing things differently. For the last few months, the group has been working on a new web-based tool it hopes will better coordinate limited resources. It’s called Homelink and it was developed with the Palantir software company.
“In many communities, the resources exist to solve this problem and in all communities more resources are available to make significant headway than communities realize,” says Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions. “Real time data can make those resources evident and accessible.”