Homelessness and mental illness have a strong association with public disorder and criminality. Experimental evidence indicates that Housing First (HF) increases housing stability and perceived choice among those experiencing chronic homelessness and mental disorders. HF is also associated with lower residential costs than common alternative approaches. Few studies have examined the effect of HF on criminal behavior.
Individuals meeting criteria for homelessness and a current mental disorder were randomized to one of three conditions treatment as usual (reference); scattered site HF; and congregate HF. Administrative data concerning justice system events were linked in order to study prior histories of offending and to test the relationship between housing status and offending following randomization for up to two years.
Results The majority of the sample (67%) was involved with the justice system, with a mean of 8.07 convictions per person in the ten years prior to recruitment. The most common category of crime was “property offences” (mean = 4.09). Following randomization, the scattered site HF condition was associated with significantly lower numbers of sentences than treatment as usual (Adjusted IRR = 0.29; 95% CI 0.12–0.72). Congregate HF was associated with a marginally significant reduction in sentences compared to treatment as usual (Adjusted IRR = 0.55; 95% CI: 0.26–1.14).
This study is the first randomized controlled trial to demonstrate benefits of HF among a homeless sample with mental illness in the domain of public safety and crime. Our sample was frequently involved with the justice system, with great personal and societal costs. Further implementation of HF is strongly indicated, particularly in the scattered site format. Research examining interdependencies between housing, health, and the justice system is indicated.