At this time of year, many people’s thoughts turn to the homeless and what can be done to help them over the cold winter months.
The issue has always been high on the political agenda and yet there has been little in the way of effective strategies to alleviate the plight of so many. Well, that was until the U.S. state of Utah decided to take a totally different approach, which has bought some fantastic results including reducing its rate of chronic homelessness by 78 percent over the past eight years.
The simple, yet surprisingly obvious, approach has moved 2000 people off the streets and put the state on track to achieve its objective of eradicating homelessness altogether by 2015.
So how’d they do it? The state started to simply give away apartments, no strings attached. They thought differently, tested effectively and implemented with conviction. As is so often the case when delivering real change, a simple well executed idea can make all the difference.
In 2005, Utah calculated the annual cost of hospital visits and jail stays for an average homeless person was $16,670, while the cost of providing an apartment and social worker would be $11,000. Simple, yet effective.
Although the idea works in theory, to ensure the success was embedded and therefore truly beneficial, each participant was allocated a caseworker to become self-sufficient and to help overcome other issues that may be affecting their lives. If they fail, the candidates still get to keep their apartment but as yet the results speak for themselves.
Success is not only measured in pure numbers but by the fact that other states are eager to emulate Utah’s results. Wyoming has seen its homeless population more than double in the past three years, and it only provides shelter for 26 percent of them, the lowest rate in the country. City officials in Casper, Wyoming, now plan to launch a pilot program using the methods of Utah’s Housing First program.
There’s no telling how far a simple, yet effectively implemented, idea might go.