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Fareed Zakaria Lauds "Housing First"

May 1, 2016 

 A segment -- "What in the World?" -- in the middle of the CNN Sunday morning news show "Fareed Zakaria GPS" was a vigorous endorsement of Housing First by the program's host.
Fareed Zakaria
Despite a healthy economy overall, many American cities are seeing a disturbing rise in homelessness. In New York [City], the number of homeless people sleeping in city shelters has shot up 92% in the last decade. Homelessness has reached its highest level since the Great Depression in the Big Apple, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

Seattle, Portland and the entire state of Hawaii declared a State of Emergency last year because their unsheltered populations are so high. Los Angeles has considered the same measure.

But there is some good news.

A bipartisan consensus has landed on a solution for this problem: to simply give homeless people homes with few or no strings attached.

You see, if you can get someone off the streets immediately, the idea goes, it becomes easier to address the problems that made someone homeless in the first place: Drug addiction, mental illness, unemployment.

Sound crazy? Consider the experience of Utah. This reddest of red states was the first place to adopt the so-called Housing First approach statewide in 2005, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The effort was led by a conservative who had worked for the Mormon church, Lloyd Pendleton, [who is] no friend of free government handouts.

Utah's chronically homeless -- the most serious long-term cases -- were given homes, but were also held accountable, overseen by caseworkers and required to pay part of their rent, Pendleton told us.

After a successful small-scale pilot program, the state pledged to effectively end chronic homelessness by 2015. Utah nearly met that goal, housing 91% of the chronically homeless since 2005, the state says.

Part of that dramatic decline was due to changes in how the homeless were counted, Pendleton says, but the state's efforts were still impressive.

What's more, Utah's Housing First approach actually saved taxpayers money, according to Pendleton.

The old way of addressing homelessness, providing only temporary shelter for those living on the street, leads to more instability for the homeless, more trips to the emergency rooms and to jails. But giving the homeless a more-permanent home helped break that cycle, saving between 25% to 40% per person per year, Pendleton estimates.

Studies of similar efforts elsewhere also show big savings. It's no wonder that many other conservatives have supported this policy -- including, most prominently, the George W. Bush Administration which encouraged other places to adopt it. 

Nationwide, permanent supportive housing units have grown 69% since 2007, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

And, since 2010, homelessness has dropped by nearly 12%, a decrease The Alliance credits in part to the Housing First approach.

There's still much work to do. Nearly one-third of today's homeless don't even have access to a shelter at night. Combating homelessness in Salt Lake City is different from fighting it elsewhere. But if we're willing to be innovative, embrace solutions that work, these are problems that can be solved in the world's richest country.
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The words, above, from Zakaria were transcribed from the Podcast of the May 1, 2016 episode of  "Fareed Zakaria GPS (Episode 91)."

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