Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Consumer Integration and Self-Determination in Homelessness Research, Policy, Planning, and Services. Implications of Consumer-Driven and Choice-Based Housing and Service Approaches

09/01/2007

Over the last decade, consumer-driven approaches to homeless services  particularly the housing first model  have moved from the service and policy margins to a visible, and even central, place in many locales 10-year plans to end homelessness.

  • Individual-Level Impacts on Homelessness
    • Increasingly rigorous studies have shown that housing first produces better housing outcomes than alternatives that emphasize housing readiness for people with co-occurring disorders who experience homelessness. There is some research evidence that it reduces residential costs for participants.
    • Harm reduction is integral to the housing first model. In studies of housing first, tenants have less contact with psychiatric and substance use services than do control groups engaged in usual services, but critics fears of escalating substance use and psychiatric symptoms in the absence of treatment and abstinence requirements have proven unfounded.
    • Research is needed on new harm reduction housing for people with chronic addictions, which as yet have only anecdotal support as a strategy for ending homelessness.
  • System-Level Impacts
    • The endorsement of housing first in 10-year plans and the broad dissemination of this model currently underway implies significant change in homelessness policy and practice. Widespread adoption of the housing first model would both entail transformation of existing systems for delivering homeless services and housing.
    • Since it relies on existing housing stock, any broad-based implementation of housing first in locales lacking adequate affordable housing must be accompanied by expansion of the supply of low-cost housing if it is to play a significant role in ending homelessness at the population level. This will require advocacy for affordable housing from broad sectors of society, extending well beyond those most affected by and concerned with homelessness.
    • Because it challenges central features of current housing/service approaches (housing readiness, congregate housing, on-site services), widespread implementation must address the mismatch with existing funding and service models.

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