Some Boiseans are interested in copying a program for the homeless that is operating in Salt Lake City called Housing First. The idea is that the homeless would be offered housing regardless of their behavior and eventually some of them would reform their habits. Promoters figure it would get people off the streets and it supposedly is a success in Salt Lake.
I can sympathize with the frustration of the providers of services to the homeless, but I suspect this Housing First plan is really not going to work. Here are a few things that have occurred to me:
Will the managers of the housing put up with any and all dysfunctional behavior by the tenants? Many people who are homeless in Boise refuse to follow the rules at the shelters. If the tenants are not allowed to do just as they please, won’t a certain number of them just go back to being homeless?
Will the city be involved in providing the housing? If so, could Boise be sued on civil rights grounds if there are restrictions on what the tenants can do?
If Housing First housing becomes the center of a zone where anything goes, will not crime spread and property values drop? Sadly, real estate promoters have been known to deliberately destroy old neighborhoods (Boise’s North End community could be a target) with infusions of criminals and undesirable citizens — forcing anyone with the means to escape to pay up for more expensive housing in the suburbs.
Could providing housing free to all who claim to be homelessĀ involve providing more than the 100 spaces that are now envisioned based on the number of homeless people who are currently in Boise? If you build it, they just might come in numbers that would surprise the promoters.
Look at the experience in Colorado with marijuana legalization. It has become a magnet for people who want nothing more than to live life in a state of continual intoxication. If Oregon provides the legal pot and Boise provides the free housing, who knows how great a demand this Housing First project could generate?
What about the experience of Eastern cities with “Housing First,” in what is known as public housing? That began in the 1930s and expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, which is a lot more experience than Salt Lake City can claim. Ride any commuter rail line out of a big Eastern city and look for the public housing towers standing in the midst of neighborhoods that appear to have been carpet bombed. Also worth noting: the cities with big public housing projects still have homeless individuals living in deplorable conditions.
What about the success stories, the people who entered the Housing First apartments and managed to turn their lives around, is there any provision for them to be able to move on? Often people who climb from welfare to work find that their finances are as tight after getting their jobs as when they were not working. Will these people who have struggled to succeed be forced to continue to live next door to partiers and wildmen — and possibly gang members — in the Housing First apartments?
My feeling is that a more compassionate program is to offer help to people who have already demonstrated actions to improve themselves — a Housing Boost program — not a Housing First plan for the stubborn and the unmotivated members of society.

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