Aug 30, 2022 - News

Study shows effectiveness of housing-first program

A homeless campsite photographed near the corner of Kalamath St. and 4th Ave. in Denver, on June 9. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

People experiencing homelessness who receive supportive services are less likely to die from exposure to the elements and avoid interacting with police, a new analysis from the Urban Institute shows.

Why it matters: The number of people who are unhoused has grown throughout the Denver metro in recent years.

  • Research suggests supportive housing β€” defined as non-time-limited affordable housing assistance along with integrated, supportive services β€” is an effective solution to help people who view the streets as their only housing option.

State of play: Researchers from the nonprofit Urban Institute looked at the Denver Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative, which launched in 2016 and provides housing and other supportive services for people experiencing homelessness.

  • They compared participants in that program with people who use traditional services, like emergency shelters or short-term rental assistance, according to research co-author Sarah Gillespie.

By the numbers: The analysis looked at 532 people who were offered supportive housing and 529 people who received standard community services between January 2016 and January 2019.

  • Gillespie said the average participant was in their late 40s and chronically homeless.

Details: The research found most deaths among those experiencing homelessness were not attributable to drug overdoses.

  • Seven people in the group who received traditional services died of exposure, while none from the supportive housing group died as a result, suggesting that supportive housing overall reduces a person's risk of dying from exposure to the elements.
  • Supportive housing also helps people avoid interacting with the legal system β€” which can be the case for people experiencing homelessness, especially in a city where urban camping is banned.

Yes, but: Denver data suggests as many as 19% of deadly drug overdoses between 2018 to 2022 were among people experiencing homelessness.

Zoom out: People experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of dying by about 80% when compared to individuals who return to housing, according to research published by the University of California San Francisco on Monday.

  • Older people experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable, as researchers found those who first become homeless at age 50 or older are about 60% more likely to die than those who were homeless earlier in life.

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