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December 03, 2016
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Fighting homelessness with a model that works

In the last dozen years, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, progress has been made by funneling a large amount of funds targeted for the homeless funds into housing programs. This strategy works. Between 2005 and 2007, the number of chronically homeless fell 30%, as mentally ill or otherwise disabled people received help to find permanent, affordable rental housing, were assigned case workers and received supportive services for their particular disabilities. From 2007 to 2009, despite the drop in personal income and a rise in poverty caused by the worst recession in decades, homelessness declined. From 2009 to 2012, under the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), which received a healthy dose of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the numbers of homeless held steady. However, that program expired last fall, and work still needs to be done. Approximately 40% of homeless people today remain unsheltered.

Finding homes for this vulnerable population is a smart investment. In the long run, taxpayers pay less to support housing efforts than is paid for the chronically homeless who continually drift in and out of hospitals, mental-health facilities, detox centers, courts, jails or shelters. The reason permanent housing works is that people who aren’t living on the streets or in temporary shelters, have more stable lives to deal with their mental issues, drug problems or family difficulties that often contribute to homelessness. In addition, these persons are not stigmatized by their homelessness.

Now, as governments tighten their budgets to address debt and deficit crises, the risk rises that recent successes in reducing chronic homelessness will be undone. Just how much government funding should be involved versus how much private funding is open for discussion, but when a reform idea works and is cost effective, the associated programs are worth keeping. We need to ensure that the needs of this most vulnerable population receive priority in order to avoid increased homelessness, suffering and cost.

As county legislator Cindy Kurpil Gieger wrote last week in a letter to The River Reporter, as Sullivan County addresses waste, fraud and abuse in its delivery of social services, it must continue to ensure that tax dollars provide for the neediest among us. We agree.