The Biden administration’s assertion that by 2025, the United States will achieve a 25% reduction in homelessness is not only without precedent but also capriciously absurd.
“All In” – the Biden administration’s new blueprint to reduce homelessness – is all wrong.
Housing First, a policy experiment instituted by the Obama-Biden administration in 2013, grounds the plan. This approach defunded treatment services, prophesying that the provision of permanent housing would end homelessness in 10 years.
A decade later, homelessness has reached unprecedented levels. While the global pandemic contributed slightly to the overall escalation, this road was paved well before it struck.
Pre-pandemic data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed a 15.6% increase in the nation’s homeless population. In California – which in 2016 became the only state to fully adopt Housing First – pre-pandemic data unveiled a 33.8% rise in homelessness.
Spending rose, but homelessness still increased
Not only is the blueprint grounded in a failed experiment, it also proposes a doubling down on the annual budget for it – from $4.1 billion to $8.7 billion.
Never mind that this proposal will be dead on arrival in the new Congress, President Joe Biden seems to have forgotten that despite increases in federal spending under Housing First, the number of homeless Americans rose.
Thus, the “All In” assertion that by 2025, the United States will achieve a 25% reduction in homelessness is not only without precedent but also capriciously absurd.
The blueprint also declares that “housing is health care,” and that every American has a right to housing.
This claim is patently false. A 2018 study by the National Academies of Sciences – the federal government’s premiere research institute – showed that housing does not improve health outcomes for the homeless: “Overall, except for some evidence that (permanent supportive housing) improves health outcomes among individuals with HIV/AIDS, the committee finds that there is no substantial published evidence as yet to demonstrate that PSH improves health outcomes or reduces health care costs.”
The blueprint’s most outrageous proclamation might be that the rise in homelessness is due to “growing economic inequality exacerbated by a global pandemic, soaring housing costs, and housing supply shortfalls. It is further exacerbated by inequitable access to health care, including mental health and/or substance use disorder treatment; discrimination and exclusion of people of color, LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities and older adults; as well as the consequences of mass incarceration.”
We know that three-quarters of the homeless are overwhelmed with the diseases of mental illness and addiction, whether a precursor to or a result of their homelessness.
Homelessness policy must put people first
The U.S. surgeon general describes addiction as a complex brain disorder disease. Well-supported scientific evidence shows that brain disruptions reduce brain function, which inhibits the ability to make decisions and regulate one’s actions, emotions and impulses.
Yet treatment services were not only not prioritized under Housing First, the homeless have the choice of whether to engage in sobriety and treatment services – despite their reduced ability to come to such conclusions.
Instead, the United States must employ a human first policy that insists on the guardrail of personal accountability – including sobriety – to support healing, growth and liberty.
As homeless people begin to heal, we must provide additional services such as employment training and life skills instruction to ensure that once they obtain housing, they can independently maintain it.
Human first, not Housing First, is the best way to reverse this national crisis.