Meet the outsider who accidentally solved chronic homelessness
Compounding the puzzle is the irony that those most likely to innovate are rarely the experts. They’re outsiders who see things freshly.
And so, on a recent morning, one such outsider picks his way down a sun-splashed Brookland street. Face patched in scruff, wiry frame crammed into a Patagonia jacket, he doesn’t at first seem like an innovator who has had national impact. But few thinkers today are in greater demand.
Meet Sam Tsemberis. According to academics and advocates, he’s all but solved chronic homelessness. His research, which commands the support of most scholars, has inspired policies across the nation, as well as in the District. The results have been staggering. Late last month, Utah, the latest laboratory for Tsemberis’s’s models, reported it has nearly eradicated chronic homelessness. Phoenix, an earlier test case, eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans. Then New Orleans housed every homeless veteran. . . .
Homeless services once worked like a reward system. Kick an addiction, get a home. Take some medication, get counseling. But Tsemberis’s model, called “housing first,” said the order was backward. Someone has the best chance of improving if they’re stabilized in a home.
It works like this: First, prioritize the chronically homeless, defined as those with mental or physical disabilities who are homeless for longer than a year or have experienced four episodes within three years. They’re the most difficult homeless to reabsorb into society and rack up the most significant public costs in hospital stays, jail sentences and shelter visits.
Then give them a home, no questions asked. Immediately afterward, provide counseling, a step research shows is the most vital. Give them final say in everything — where they live, what they own, how often they’re counseled. . . .Click here for the rest of this important article.