This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
To say that the cure for homelessness is a home might seem as uselessly self-evident as saying that the cure for insomnia is to get some sleep.
But experts and observers from around the nation are singing the praises of state and local officials, advocates and philanthropic organizations in Utah because of the widespread, and successful, adoption of the "housing first" approach to dealing with chronic homelessness.
Republicans and Democrats, city and state, public and private. All involved have turned an experiment cooked up 10 years ago by an East Coast advocate named Sam Tsemberis into concerted and successful efforts to cut down on the number of chronically homeless people in our midst.
Before "housing first," the jobless, the mentally ill, the addicted who found themselves out on the street were expected with varying degrees of help to dig themselves out of the hole they were in by getting a job, getting clean or somehow just snapping out of serious mental or physical disorders. Then, and only then, might some charity or public agency help the person find a safe and warm place to live.
Tsemberis' insight, which seems obvious once it is explained, is that not having shelter, a real address to write on a job application, a place to feel safe, just made dealing with all the other aspects of their situation that much more difficult. That wasn't only bad for the homeless person. It was costly to the rest of us.
Housing a previously homeless person in a basic, subsidized apartment is much cheaper than providing ongoing substance abuse and welfare services, arresting them, keeping them in jail, tying up police and harming property values in the neighborhoods where the homeless tend to congregate.
It's also a lot more humane.
The success in this approach has been marked in dealing with the chronically homeless, defined by experts as having been without a home for more than a year, or on at least three occasions over the previous four years. In Utah, the number of such people counted has plummeted, from 1,932 in 2005 to 539 this year.
No one is claiming this problem is solved. In Salt Lake City alone, the homeless population, with its share of criminals and victims, continues to frighten people and dampen business prospects in the neighborhood of Pioneer Park, west of downtown.
But there, too, the long-term answer will be the provision of the most basic human needs, starting with a roof and a door, as a firm foundation for helping people rebuild the rest of their lives.