A Story of Success: Housing First Saves Dollars

New research shows that Housing First saves dollars - $4 million, to be exact. Over the course of twelve months, researchers tracked costs and benefits of the Housing First program at 1811 Eastlake in Seattle, WA. Co-author Bill Hobson shares his perspective on the research and his hopes for the future.

“I think Housing First is beneficial because it respects residents, accepts who they are - and where they are - without any kind of condition and introduces clinical themes at a pace that residents can tolerate,” says Executive Director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, Bill Hobson. He is co-author of a recent study documenting the cost benefits of the Housing First Model at 1811 Eastlake in Seattle, Washington.  

The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Health Care and Public Service Use and Costs Before and After Provision of Housing for Chronically Homeless Persons With Severe Alcohol Problems, found a $4 million dollar decrease in the use of crisis intervention services during the course of twelve months.  The study was a quasi-experimental design comparing 95 housed participants with drinking permitted with 39 wait-list control participants between November 2005 and March 2007.

Five social workers divided the population into caseloads and participation in services was not required. “Whether or not residents choose to accept services is entirely up to them,” explains Hobson. Yet the program experienced 100% participation – a triumph for a population traditionally considered to be past the point of no return.

“Housing First is predicated on the idea that if you eliminate the chaos of homelessness, clinical stability will follow. People do not get better when they are on the street, constantly under stress, but when that is gone, I think people tend to respond when assistance is offered,” says Hobson.

Twenty-six different communities from all over the country have come to visit 1811 Eastlake, bringing one elected official, one law enforcement official and one service provider. Hobson believes that both the study and the program are replicable and wishes that more of this type of research would occur. “This type of research—if it is good— generates additional questions to be answered,” says Hobson. The group is already starting new research through The Addictive Behaviors Research Center at The University of Washington to develop a specific alcohol intervention protocol and to seek additional funding for the study.

While the group was excited about the reduction of alcohol use by one-third, “…even more exciting, was that the number of days between drinking and intoxication is growing, says Hobson. “This gives me the belief that the traditional prognosis for this population is not correct,” says Hobson. Typically, the likelihood of recovery in this group is estimated at 5%.

In terms of future policy changes, Hobson offers that this country is not producing affordable housing quickly enough and that what is needed is more money. “From where I sit, this is a resource problem and the thing about Housing First is that the research is in and it works. We don’t have to be taught anymore. We need money for housing and services. The real Achilles heel is the lack of resources to build and acquire apartments for housing homeless people.” Hobson also hopes that the outcome data from this study will urge policy makers to consider the benefits of harm reduction programs.

Bill Hobson has been interested in marginalized populations his whole life and as a refugee from Academia enjoys the research. “What has motivated me to stay here,” says Hobson, “ is that we are an organization that refuses to accept that there are throw-away people. We work with the folks that everyone else gives up."

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Publication Date: 
Newton Centre, MA, USA