60 Minutes: 100,000 Homes Chronic Homeless Housing Success + Criticism

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60 Minutes: 100,000 Homes

Giving apartments to homeless people seems counterintuitive, but as Anderson Cooper reports for 60 Minutes, this is an approach big cities are taking to address long-term homelessness. The 100,000 Homes campaign has so far gotten 80,000 people off the streets.

Cooper said that it is funded by existing government programs and private donors, while local governments and charities are doing the work on the ground. Research so far shows that taxpayers are saving money.

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Anderson Cooper visited Nashville to see the program in action. At a storage facility, Ingrid McIntyre checked in on client Robert McMurtry. McMurtry had multiple medical problems and was living in a storage locker after being homeless for three years. A former construction worker, he became sick and lost his job.

60 Minutes: Community Solutions + Open Table Nashville

60 Minutes: 100,000 Homes Chronic Homeless Housing Success + Criticism

Could giving the chronic homeless housing actually save taxpayers money on medical care? 60 Minutes found that’s what 100,000 Homes has set out to prove.

McMurtry said he never planned on being homeless or imagined what it might be like. McIntyre runs Open Table Nashville, which has been surveying the homeless in the city to find those who are at high risk. A few days later, she returned to offer him an apartment. The next day, he got to move into a private downtown building.

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Until recently, most homeless people attempting to find an apartment were required to complete job training and/or go through rehabilitation treatment before qualifying for housing. But 100,000 Homes takes a different approach, first tried in New York, to give clients housing first and then get them the services they need.

Becky Kanis from Community Solutions said that the program targets the chronic homeless, who are most likely to die on the streets. Though most of the nation’s 600,000 homeless will be out on their own for less than a month, for some it is a way of life. Those who are homeless for more than a year are the ones who need help.

60 Minutes: Homeless Population At Risk

Over 60% of the chronic homeless have drug, alcohol, or mental illness problems. But Kanis told 60 Minutes that it costs taxpayers far more in emergency room visits and inpatient hospital stays than it would to offer them housing. “We are paying more as taxpayers to walk past that person on the street and do nothing than we would be paying to just give them an apartment,” Kanis said.

She has a military background, and she credited that boots-on-the-ground experience with reaching out to members of the homeless population who are most in need. 60 Minutes tagged along with a Nashville team for a 3 a.m. search through known homeless camps.

People who answered survey questions received a free bus pass. Questions focused on health, and the information was used to prioritize those with the most critical needs for housing. Last year, 52 homeless people died in Nashville.

60 Minutes: Who Pays for Homeless Housing in Nashville?

Though not everyone told survey takers the truth, many were very candid, according to 60 Minutes. Ernest Thomas, a 39-year-old, said he has to lie to his family about how he is doing, and he feels he messed up in life to end up on the street.

Will Connell with the city’s homeless commission helped to bring the approach to Nashville. The permanent housing comes with no strings attached. Government subsidies help to foot the bill, and some private donors have offered their own rental space.

Kirby Davis donated 1% of his rental units to the program, and encouraged others to take risks on behalf of others. The program did not require any new tax dollars, but 60 Minutes showed that it brought together disparate groups, such as property owners and outreach workers.

60 Minutes: Homeless Housing Criticism

Frank Clements, who spent 30 years in prison for crimes including robbery. He was living on a park bench when 60 Minutes and the outreach workers found him. The 66-year-old claimed to have heart disease, pneumonia, and two forms of cancer.

Four days after his survey, Frank got to move into his new apartment, and you could see the gratitude on his face. Social workers follow up with clients, including Frank, to ensure that they are making strides.

Frank struggled to maintain his sobriety, and he was so disruptive that he had to be moved out of two apartments. Critics of the program feel that resources might be better directed at homeless youth or low-income families. But Kanis told 60 Minutes that she takes a broader view of the good of society. The second chance for clients is a bonus on top of the taxpayer savings, she suggested.

60 Minutes: 100,000 Homes Success Rate

University of Pennsylvania researchers found that 85% of the homeless who received housing and support were able to maintain that status two years later. In Nashville, 200 people found homes in 100 days, with just a handful leaving the program in that time period.

Though there were not happy endings for everyone, the program seems to be a success. The 100,000 Homes program expects to reach its goal by summer 2014, and Kanis sees that as evidence of what can actually be accomplished. “In a matter of days from having housing, the physical transformation is almost immediate,” she said, and she is definitely a firm believer in the program. What do you think about this approach?

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