To me the starting point is.... , “what are other cities doing that works and why aren’t we as effective?” Regions with a strong governing body overseeing the response to homelessness tend to be more successful reducing it. Cities that have made the most headway in reducing homelessness did so using a Housing First approach. That model prioritizes getting people into homes without barriers, under the assumption that once their housing is secure they can begin to deal the factors that caused them to become homeless, such as job loss, mental health issues, or addiction. I support a strong focus on addiction rehabilitation and also the Club House Model of Mental Health Rehabilitation.
If we can get everyone in Des Moines access when they need it we will save money over lawsuits, court costs, jail and prison stays, and emergency room visits.
Columbus was one of the first cities to adopt a Housing First model. In 1986, the city took the unusual step of creating a Community Shelter Board, an organization that controls the city’s entire homeless response budget and coordinates all of the service providers in the region. Columbus has a 70 percent rate of successful housing outcomes, which means most homeless people end up with leases for close to market rate housing.
Fully embracing Housing First also helped Salt Lake City and Utah to dramatically reduce chronic homelessness, a success story that made national headlines in 2015.
Utah reduced its population of chronically homeless individuals from 2,000 in 2005 to fewer than 200 in 2015, a 91 percent drop.
Lloyd Pendleton architected Utah’s Housing First homeless response and served as director of the state’s Homeless Task Force until 2015. He said deep collaboration and a strong governing body with spending oversight were key to Utah’s success.
“Funding’s critically important, but you can throw millions of dollars at it and if you don’t have a coordinated effort and come in with a common vision, it’ll generally create problems. Money is not the main solution. The leadership is the main solution."
Cities in Europe also tend to be much more successful housing their most vulnerable populations. Finland, in particular, has seen success using the Housing First model, making investments in affordable housing since 2008 and converting many shelters into supportive housing units. It is the only country in Europe where the homeless population has been decreasing in recent years, according to The Guardian.
Depending on which study you want to use by not addressing homelessness taxpayers spend thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually per homeless person. Housing all of our homeless in Des Moines would cost less than half that much money, and numerous studies show that people who live indoors go to jails and hospitals far less than people who live on the streets. If we spend wiser and get people into housing and skill development and get addiction and/or mental health rehab to those that need it we can drastically reduce homelessness while saving the city money. This has been proven in cities around the world. It is simple logic that by these actions we could have a healthier population and more people in positions to donate to causes or to contribute via city taxation.