By Isaac Saul
In the Canadian town of Medicine Hat, Alberta, where 60,000 people live, everyone has a home tonight.
That’s after six years of instituting a “Housing First” policy that flips the status quo on its head but has helped restore safety and shelter to a city that needed it.
Back in 2009, Mayor Ted Clugston was actively opposing the policy, which pledges to give any person who spends ten days on the street a home. Today, he has come to realize that not only does the policy work for the people, but it works for the govenrnment, too.
“This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people,” he told CBC.
Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, helped conduct a study that supported Clugston’s claim. The study cost $110 million and looked at 2,000 people over five different cities, but its results were invaluable.
What they found was that when homeless people were told to “get clean” or find other ways to get their lives together before applying for housing, they inevitably fell back into cycles of drug use and poverty. That landed them back in emergency rooms, hospitals, detention centers and shelters — all things that cost tax money.
Speaking to CBC, Glugston estimated that it costs $20,000 to house a homeless person for the year and close to $100,000 to keep them on the street.
“Housing First puts everything on its head. It used to be, ‘You want a home, get off the drugs or deal with your mental health issues,'” Clugston told CBC. “If you’re addicted to drugs, it’s going to be pretty hard to get off them, if you’re sleeping under a park bench.”
And it worked. City officials have said it typically doesn’t even take 10 days to find people housing. Emergency room visits and interactions with police are dropping in Medicine Hat, while court appearances have actually gone up. The reason?
“They end up dealing with their past, atoning for their sins,” Clugston said.
That’s not the only place it’s worked, either. In Utah, when a similar policy was introduced, homelessness was reduced by 91 percent. There are now so few homeless people in the state that Utah’s housing officials know all 178 of them by name.Φ
Isaac Saul is a 2013 University of Pittsburgh graduate, where he majored in non-fiction writing and got his journalism start as the sports editor for The Pitt News. After college he spent 6 months living, studying and working abroad in Jerusalem at the Interdisciplinary Journal of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He worked as Associate Editor at the Huffington Post, and has appeared on CNN to debate his controversial article ‘What Richard Sherman Taught Us About America’ with Terrence Moore. He is now the lead editor for A+ Positive Journalism.