Giving Compass' Take:

• Ruth Gourevitch and Mary K. Cunningham highlight a study out of Denver which debunks the damaging narrative that homelessness is a choice.

• How do myths like this one impede efforts to address homelessness? How can donors spread facts about homelessness?

• To better understand the realities of homelessness, read our homelessness guide for donors.

When asked what the most common misconception is about people experiencing homelessness, Mental Health Center of Denver supportive housing provider Takisha Keesee knew her answer right away: “That they want to be homeless.”

This myth enables apathy and maintains the nation’s status quo of too many people experiencing homelessness in an urgent affordable housing crisis.

On any given night in the US, about 550,000 people experience homelessness, and almost 89,000 are chronically homeless (PDF). Sometimes they sleep in shelters, if a bed is available. But they may avoid shelters because of bed bugs, high rates of violence, or policies that prevent them from bringing their personal items or pets with them. Shelters may require sobriety or engagement in services. And couples are often split up when entering shelter, so some avoid it to stay together.

Early results from the Denver Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative (the Denver SIB) add to the evidence that those who experience homelessness want stability, and stability starts with housing.

The Denver SIB program provides permanent housing and wraparound services for people who experience homelessness and cycle in and out of jail ... [O]f the 363 people experiencing chronic homelessness who were randomly selected to receive treatment, 63 percent engaged with the service providers and moved into housing (also known as the project’s take-up rate). In other words, regardless of whether they were actively seeking help, 63 percent of participants engaged with the program and agreed to move into housing.

As the Denver experience indicates, homelessness is very much a solvable problem, and homelessness is usually not a choice.

Read the full article about homelessness by Ruth Gourevitch and Mary K. Cunningham at Urban Institute.