Which cities or countries have been most successful in getting homeless people off the streets and into homes, and how did they do it?

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23 January
18:09
14 March
01:28

Unfortunately, due to the ubiquitous and ever-occurring nature of the symptoms of homelessness; a complete and sustained eradication of homelessness is near impossible. This though, should dictate our approach to our preventative measures against homelessness as well as addressing the fact that homelessness is very rarely a result of transgressive behaviour and a litany of poor life choices. No one is immune to homelessness. Therefore, our response to it must be heavily entrenched in empathy. In the absence of being able to eradicate it indefinitely, there is a necessity in ending the need to sleep rough in any given place - something that is completely possible. If we could also encourage the perception that housing is a fundamental human right, that would also help. 

A town by the name of Medicine Hat (MA) in Alberta, Canada have enacted a truly persuasive homelessness eradication strategy that orientates around a 'House First' ideology. The Mayor of MA Ted Clugston is a fiscal Conservative but he understands that there is an immeasurable benefit for everyone fiscally and socially when everyone has a home and people aren't forced to live on the streets. In the UK for example, homeless people use 'four times as many acute health services and eight times as many inpatient services' as those with a home. This costs about £85.6 million a year. MA then enacted an aim to find someone a place to live within ten days of them becoming homeless. MA had already begun with a collaborative approach to the issue by starting committees such as the Community Council on Homelessness which was made up of citizens from various sectors, vocations, representatives from government departments and non-profit organisations. The clear representative diversity is likely to be one of the reasons why the town's approached to homelessness was so well co-ordinated and well-informed. 

There was, and still is an immense importance afforded the frontline staff that aid homeless people out of their current situation. The aim (as of the beginning of 2017) is for a registered homeless person to be seen be a support worker in no more than three days. Due to the approach being so innovative, there was no real precedent set as to how front line staff were to engage with the people they worked with. Their sole motivation was meet homeless people in the situation they were currently in, whether that be in a state of significant mental health issues or substance abuse. 

Put simply, thanks to the successful engagement of many stakeholders, MA built many new houses and bought and renovated existing properties. It has been their readiness to undermine the conventional mantra of 'help homeless people help themselves' twinned with an insistence that homeless people reach sobriety before being helped into housing that has led to the scheme's success. People cannot be expected to neglect the only comfort they may have whilst on the streets in the form of drugs or alcohol whilst continuing to sleep rough. It is expecting human beings to give up a coping mechanism whilst being engulfed in the very environment that facilitates and exacerbates poor mental health that is a hindrance to any attempts to eliminate homelessness.

More information on Medicine Hat and the general homelessness situation in Canada can be found here: localgovernment.uwo.ca

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