Friday, February 20, 2015


Mother Jones on the effectiveness of Housing First in Utah

… In the past nine years, Utah has decreased the number of homeless by 72 percent—largely by finding and building apartments where they can live, permanently, with no strings attached. It's a program, or more accurately a philosophy, called Housing First.

by Larry Geller

Mother Jones

The cover of the current issue of Mother Jones magazine says it all: “Shockingly effective, surprisingly cheap way to fix homelessness” over the image of a house key.

In Honolulu, any “shockingly effective, surprisingly cheap” solution to anything would be very welcome—perhaps Mother Jones also has some ideas about mass transit?

Of course, they are talking about Housing First. The evidence-based solution that Hawaii has ignored for about a decade, even as other cities were reporting success.

"The old model was well intentioned but misinformed. You actually need housing to achieve sobriety and stability, not the other way around."

[quoted in Mother Jones, Room for Improvement, March/April 2015]

By now, you’re already familiar with the basics of Housing First. In my observation, at the state level, Hawaii understands what needs to be done and can make some headway with both housing and the specialized support services necessary to move people into long-term housing solutions. It will still take time to kick in.

The city of Honolulu still doesn’t get it. They may know everything in the Mother Jones article, but yet they still avoid concentrating on a true Housing First model.

The current popular number for the housing shortfall is that 24,000 units are needed. Since there is competition for low-cost rentals from those doubling up with friends or relatives right now, and from a growing senior citizen segment surviving on fixed incomes, the true need is probably many times that. Even if Honolulu were any good at urban planning, that would be a challenge.

If one must make an economic argument, the city is wasting taxpayer money if it does not implement Housing First efficiently.

Which takes us back to the Mother Jones cover: a “Shockingly effective, surprisingly cheap way to fix homelessness.”

In a way, Honolulu is already good at being surprisingly cheap (for example, in just skipping necessary street maintenance). What we need now is a little of that “shockingly effective” part.


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