HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 07-127
Brian Sullivan
(202) 708-0685
For Release
September 12, 2007

First exploratory study expands understanding of how to help the hardest-to-help

WASHINGTON - A new report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development documents and qualifies the effectiveness of Housing First strategies in terms of keeping chronically homeless persons from returning to the streets or addressing the root causes of their homelessness.

"Housing First" was developed as a response to help house and serve chronically homeless persons living on the streets and in shelters of local communities across America. It is built on the idea that moving people directly from the streets and shelters into their own permanent housing would save lives and help those living with mental illness, addictions, or other disabilities through the assurance of ongoing housing.

The Applicability of Housing First Models to Homeless Persons with Serious Mental Illness, concludes that the long-term homeless population typically spends days, weeks, or even months alternately living on the streets, in Housing First units, short-term housing programs or institutional settings like mental health facilities and treatment centers. Those clients who came into Housing First programs directly from the streets face a higher risk of leaving their housing for good. Regardless of the paths mentally ill homeless persons take into Housing First programs, the study found no appreciable improvement in their sobriety, employment or income over the one-year study period. Research on the outcomes of other homeless interventions show similar results.

A significant majority of clients (84 percent) were in the permanent housing at the beginning and end of the 12-month interval, a considerable achievement. However, the study found 41 percent returned to the streets throughout that year, some for extended periods. The study recommends tracking housing tenure over longer periods of time and calls for a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be stably housed for this difficult-to-serve population.

The Applicability report is HUD's first exploratory look into whether this controversial strategy actually works and does not seek to answer questions about the appropriateness or effectiveness of safe havens, wet shelters or low-demand programs that offer housing to homeless persons with disabilities, many of whom continue to struggle with substance-related disorders while in subsidized housing.

HUD studied 23 programs that incorporated most or many of the key features of the Housing First model. Ultimately the Department focused on 80 clients in total from three local programs: Downtown Emergency Service Center (Seattle); Pathways to Housing (New York); and REACH (San Diego).

"This study raises a lot of questions, and it is important for both the public policy and the advocate communities to try to evaluate these programs so we know what works and how to improve them," said Darlene F. Williams, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research. "Not surprisingly, the jury is still out on whether Housing First is the most effective, or most desirable, strategy for meeting the needs of people who are the hardest-to-help."

Williams added, "Clearly more research is needed to fully understand whether housing first works in the long term. Beyond the larger policy questions, it's obvious that no one strategy offers a magic bullet to confront the complex housing and service needws of persons struggling with mental illness and addictions. Hopefully this study will start a public dialogue about which models should offer the paradigm for dealing with the chronically homeless population."


HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development and enforces the nation's fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet and

Content Archived: May 10, 2010