To address what was the sixth-largest homeless population in the country, Houston adopted what’s called a housing-first strategy. The method prioritizes providing permanent housing to homeless individuals as quickly as possible while providing a host of voluntary supportive services to ensure they remain housed long-term.

“When we looked at all the different types of data from all the different strategies out there, housing with wrap-around support services was by far the most effective,” said Marc Eichenbaum, a special assistant to Houston’s mayor on homeless initiatives.

The first story in this series tells how the greater Houston region achieved a 63% reduction in homelessness since 2011, more than any other of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Houston accomplished this without spending any city money beyond federal funding it receives, and Eichenbaum says it spends less than what any other major city spends to address the issue. The city has to be “smarter” on how it uses those limited resources, he said.

Other cities that have deployed housing-first models also report experiencing drops in homelessness.

Salt Lake City, Utah, and Columbus, Ohio, were among the first large cities in the U.S. to use housing-first approaches to reduce homelessness, said Sophie House, law and policy director of the Housing Solutions Lab at New York University’s Furman Center.

Over several years, more than 90% of people placed in permanent housing in Utah remained housed, according to a 2021 report from the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General.

Likewise, Atlanta, a city that modeled its housing-first policy after Houston’s, has seen a nearly 40% drop in homelessness since the start of the pandemic.

Read the full article about housing first in Houston by Danielle McLean at Smart Cities Dive.