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In 2016 influential political leaders, activists, and media outlets in Los Angeles said they had a simple solution to homelessness: build more housing. Echoing an argument heard across the country, they claimed that rising rents have thrown people onto the streets and that by directly providing free “permanent supportive housing,” cities can reduce the number of people on the streets and save costs on emergency services.
Article by Christopher F. Rufo from Real Clear Investigations.
In response, 77% of Los Angeles voters approved a $1.2 billion bond for the construction of 10,000 units for the city’s homeless. That commitment made Los Angeles the most significant testing ground for the “Housing First” approach that has become the dominant policy idea on homelessness for West Coast cities. Even before the passage of the bond, the concept’s creator, Sam Tsemberis, was lavished with praise by the national media. In 2015, the Washington Post wrote that Tsemberis had “all but solved chronic homelessness” and that his research “commands the support of most scholars.”
In the years since, “Housing First” has taken even greater hold in California and the across the West. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently declared that “we need to have an entitlement to housing.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom went a step further, arguing that “doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for insulin or antibiotics.”
Five years in, the project has been plagued by construction delays, massive cost overruns, and accusations of corruption. The Los Angeles city controller issued a scathing report, “The High Cost of Homeless Housing,” which shows that some studio and one-bedroom apartments were costing taxpayers more than $700,000 each, with 40% of total costs devoted to consultants, lawyers, fees, and permitting. The project is a boon for real estate developers and a constellation of nonprofits and service providers, but a boondoggle for taxpayers. The physical apartment units are bare-bones — small square footage, cheap flooring, vinyl surfaces — but have construction costs similar to luxury condos in the fashionable parts of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, unsheltered homelessness has increased 41%, vastly outpacing the construction of new supportive housing units. Los Angeles magazine, which initially supported the measure, now wonders whether it has become “a historic public housing debacle.”
Before completing a single housing unit, the city reduced its projected construction from 10,000 units to 5,873 units over 10 years, with the potential for further reductions in the future. But the long-term problem runs much deeper: Even if one accepts that permanent supportive housing is the solution, there are currently more than 66,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Under the best-case scenario, Proposition HHH will solve less than 10% of the problem over the course of a decade.
Despite Housing First’s uncertainties, other West Coast cities desperate to solve homelessness, including Seattle and San Francisco, have been captured by its seductive messaging and promise of respite. As Los Angeles grapples with the unforeseen consequences of its big bet on “Housing First,” the federal, state, and local governments, especially in major metropolitan areas, are preparing to commit billions of dollars to the program, whose track record remains woefully underexamined.
Ever since clinical psychologist Tsemberis pioneered the model in New York City in the 1990s, political leaders, activists, and academics have insisted that Housing First is an “evidence-based” intervention that reduces homelessness, saves taxpayer money, and improves lives. Supporters frequently argue that the program reduced costs in a study of chronic alcoholics in Seattle, consistently demonstrates high retention rates in multiple academic surveys, and eliminated chronic homelessness in Utah. “We’re going to stem this crisis by building supportive housing in every neighborhood throughout Los Angeles,” City Council member Herb Wesson recently claimed.
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These studies, however, are not as persuasive as activists suggest. Although the study of chronic alcoholics in Seattle does show a net reduction in monthly social service costs of $2,449 per person, this figure does not include $11 million in capital and construction costs for the housing units themselves; in other words, Housing First saves money if the cost of housing is not included. Even on its own favorable terms, the study’s purported savings aren’t as dramatic as they appear: While the Housing First participants showed a 63% reduction in service costs over six months, a wait-listed control group that was not provided housing showed a 42% reduction in service costs over the same time period, raising questions about the specific effectiveness of the intervention.
Claims that studies show one-year retention rates of roughly 80% for Housing First participants are open to question. In a meta-study of three best-in-class Housing First sites, researchers found that 43% remained in housing for the first 12 months, 41% were “intermittent stayers” who left and returned, and 16% abandoned the program or died within the first year. These findings challenge the argument that Housing First is a long-term solution to homelessness.
Finally, advocates and the media have long touted Utah as the gold standard of Housing First. “The Daily Show” called the state’s program “mind-blowing,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 2015 that Utah “is winning the war on chronic homelessness,” and dozens of media outlets announced that the state “reduced chronic homelessness by 91%.” These miraculous results, however, were not the result of Housing First policies, but apparently clerical manipulation by state officials. According to the Deseret News and economist Kevin Corinth, “As much as 85% of Utah’s touted reductions in chronic homelessness … may have been due to changes in how the homeless were counted.” It’s not that all of the chronically homeless were housed; they were simply transposed onto a new spreadsheet. Moreover, between 2016 and 2018, the number of unsheltered homeless in Utah nearly doubled – hardly the victory that Housing First activists had declared.
The recent debate surrounding Housing First has predominantly been focused on the physical and budgetary metrics of housing retention and cost reductions. But these surface-level concerns obscure a deeper question: What happens to the human beings in these programs? The results, according to the vast majority of studies, point to a grim conclusion: Housing First does not meaningfully improve human lives.
Although housing programs are often an effective solution for families experiencing a temporary loss of shelter, Housing First programs do not have a strong track record improving the lives of the unsheltered homeless — the people in tents, cars, and on the streets — who often suffer from more severe challenges. According to research by the California Policy Lab, 75% of the unsheltered homeless have substance abuse condition, 78% have mental health conditions, and 84% have physical health conditions. In theory, Housing First would address these problems. In every program, residents are offered a wide range of services. At the Pathways to Housing program in New York City, a flagship program founded by Sam Tsemberis himself, residents are served by an “interdisciplinary team of professionals that includes social workers, nurses, psychiatrists, and vocational and substance abuse counselors who are available to assist consumers 7 days a week 24 hours a day.” However, despite this massive intervention, the Pathways program shows no reduction in substance abuse or psychiatric symptoms over time – in fact, those conditions often worsened.
This basic finding is confirmed by a range of studies showing that residents of Housing First programs show no improvement regarding addiction and mental illness. They are housed but broken, wracked by the cruelest psychoses, compulsions, and torments – all under the guise of medical care.
A Housing First experiment in Ottawa, Canada, illustrates this paradoxical outcome in stark terms. Researchers divided the study into two populations: an “intervention” group that was provided Housing First and access to primary care, medically assisted treatment, social workers, and on-demand services; and a non-intervention “control” group that was not provided housing or services – they were simply left on the streets. To the shock of the researchers, after 24 months the non-intervention control group reported better results regarding substance abuse, mental health, quality of life, family relations, and mortality than the Housing First group. In other words, doing nothing resulted in superior human outcomes than providing Housing First with wraparound services.
One explanation may be that Housing First programs are deliberately not oriented toward recovery, rehabilitation, and renewal. They operate on the “harm reduction” model, which allows residents to continue using drugs such as alcohol, heroin, and methamphetamine, and does not require mental health treatment as a condition of residency. In theory, this permissive policy would help “reduce harm” to the individual; in practice, however, it may create a community-level effect that makes it hard for any individual to find recovery. Here is the basic chain of events: Homeless individuals with substance abuse and psychiatric disorders are placed together in a residential facility where they are allowed to continue the way of life they had on the streets. Despite the availability of services, there is no incentive to use those services and no disincentive to the problematic behavior associated with street homelessness. Consequently, widespread addiction often becomes the norm within Housing First programs.
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This chain of events is not just a thought experiment. In Birmingham, Ala., researchers inadvertently created this exact problem when they put participants of two different programs – one “recovery” program and one “harm reduction” program – in the same apartment complex. Immediately after beginning the experiment, the recovery group “began abandoning the provided housing, complaining that their proximity to persons not required to remain abstinent (i.e., the other trial group) was detrimental to their recovery. They claimed that they preferred to return to homelessness rather than live near drug users.” The researchers quickly stopped and reorganized the trial, writing that “this unexpected reaction shows one possible risk to housing persons with active addiction.”
Still, Housing First advocates insist that their policy is working. When reached for comment, Tsemberis insisted that the Washington Post headline declaring that he had “solved homelessness” is true. “The most effective way to end homelessness for people with mental health and addiction is to provide housing and wraparound support,” Tsemberis said. He points towards rates of “housing stability” as the key metric, while conceding that Housing First does not provide “a cure for mental illness and addiction.” This is a suggestion that policymakers have “solved homelessness” simply by bringing people indoors, no matter their addictions, mental illnesses, and human torments.
Advocates portray Housing First as a science that transcends politics. The policy was first adopted by the George W. Bush administration and has gained support from Republicans and Democrats alike. As the Washington Post observed, it is “a model so simple children could grasp it, so cost-effective fiscal hawks loved it, so socially progressive liberals praised it.
However, the real-world evidence from cities such as Los Angeles challenges this narrative. If Housing First has demonstrated anything, it is this: It provides a stable residential environment for the homeless to live out their pathologies, subsidized by the public and administered by the social-scientific sector. It does, not however, address addiction, mental illness and other factors that limit human potential and lead to homelessness.
In Los Angeles, despite the insistence that Housing First is the answer, some uncertainty is creeping in. Mayor Garcetti is now on the defensive, as homelessness in Los Angeles continues to increase despite billions in spending. After the federal government released a study questioning the premises of Housing First, Garcetti backed away from the unidimensional approach, telling reporters with irritation in his voice: “Sometimes people parody Housing First as ‘only housing.’ Nobody embraces only housing. It’s got to be housing with services together.”
In more bad news for public officials and supporters of Housing First, there is an emerging body of evidence that calls into question the “cost savings” of the program. A recent study in Massachusetts shows that Housing First does not reduce rehospitalization and service utilization, while another study in Chicago suggests that Housing First might increase overall costs. Furthermore, researchers have concluded that the purported cost savings in earlier Housing First studies would not apply to the 82% of the homeless population that is not chronically homeless.
In Los Angeles, this could spell disaster. In the most optimistic scenario laid out by the controller’s office, the city will build 5,873 supportive housing units at an initial cost of $1.2 billion, plus an estimated $88 million in annual service costs associated with the Housing First model. The recipients of this housing will not meaningfully improve their lives in terms of addiction, mental illness, and spiritual well-being — and there will still be 60,000 people on the streets across Los Angeles County. In other words, even under its own theoretical assumptions, Proposition HHH is doomed to fail.
The City of Los Angeles did not return a request for comment.
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The potential silver living might be that a reconsideration of the Housing First approach could lead to a wider reckoning for policymakers and political leaders. At the end of the Housing First experiment in Los Angeles, the city will be responsible for thousands of wards of the state with little hope for recovery, as well as tens of thousands of campers in its public spaces. A few curious citizens will read through the academic literature and find a vast discrepancy between the ideological promises of Housing First and its real-world outcomes. They might then conclude that proponents should have known better.
‘The Purge’ by Big Tech targets conservatives, including us
Just when we thought the Covid-19 lockdowns were ending and our ability to stay afloat was improving, censorship reared its ugly head.
For the last few months, NOQ Report and the American Conservative Movement have appealed to our readers for assistance in staying afloat through Covid-19 lockdowns. The downturn in the economy has limited our ability to generate proper ad revenue just as our traffic was skyrocketing. We had our first sustained stretch of three months with over a million visitors in November, December, and January, but February saw a dip.
It wasn’t just the shortened month. We expected that. We also expected the continuation of dropping traffic from “woke” Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but it has actually been much worse than anticipated. Our Twitter account was banned. Both of our YouTube accounts were banned. Facebook “fact-checks” everything we post. Spotify canceled us. Medium canceled us. Apple canceled us. Why? Because we believe in the truth prevailing, and that means we will continue to discuss “taboo” topics.
The 2020 presidential election was stolen. You can’t say that on Big Tech platforms without risking cancellation, but we’d rather get cancelled for telling the truth rather than staying around to repeat mainstream media’s lies. They have been covering it up since before the election and they’ve convinced the vast majority of conservative news outlets that they will be harmed if they continue to discuss voter fraud. We refuse to back down. The truth is the truth.
The lies associated with Covid-19 are only slightly more prevalent than the suppression of valid scientific information that runs counter to the prescribed narrative. We should be allowed to ask questions about the vaccines, for example, as there is ample evidence for concern. One does not have to be an “anti-vaxxer” in order to want answers about vaccines that are still considered experimental and that have a track record in a short period of time of having side-effects, including death. One of our stories about the Johnson & Johnson “vaccine” causing blood clots was “fact-checked” and removed one day before the government hit the brakes on it. These questions and news items are not allowed on Big Tech which is just another reason we are getting canceled.
There are more topics that they refuse to allow. In turn, we refuse to stop discussing them. This is why we desperately need your help. The best way NOQ Report and ACM readers can help is to donate. Our Giving Fuel page makes it easy to donate one-time or monthly. Alternatively, you can donate through PayPal as well. We are on track to be short by about $4100 per month in order to maintain operations.
The second way to help is to become a partner. We’ve strongly considered seeking angel investors in the past but because we were paying the bills, it didn’t seem necessary. Now, we’re struggling to pay the bills. We had 5,657,724 sessions on our website from November, 2020, through February, 2021. Our intention is to elevate that to higher levels this year by focusing on a strategy that relies on free speech rather than being beholden to progressive Big Tech companies.
During that four-month stretch, Twitter and Facebook accounted for about 20% of our traffic. We are actively working on operating as if that traffic is zero, replacing it with platforms that operate more freely such as Gab, Parler, and others. While we were never as dependent on Big Tech as most conservative sites, we’d like to be completely free from them. That doesn’t mean we will block them, but we refuse to be beholden to companies that absolutely despise us simply because of our political ideology.
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We’re heading in the right direction and we believe we’re ready talk to patriotic investors who want to not only “get in on the action” but more importantly who want to help America hear the truth. Interested investors should contact me directly with the contact button above.
As the world spirals towards radical progressivism, the need for truthful journalism has never been greater. But in these times, we need as many conservative media voices as possible. Please help keep NOQ Report going.
They’re Trying to Shut Us Down
Over the last several months, I’ve lost count of how many times the powers-that-be have tried to shut us down. They’ve sent hackers at us, forcing us to take extreme measures on web security. They sent attorneys after us, but thankfully we’re not easily intimidated by baseless accusations or threats. They’ve even gone so far as to make physical threats. Those can actually be a bit worrisome but Remington has me covered.
For us to continue to deliver the truth that Americans need to read and hear, we ask you, our amazing audience, for financial assistance. We just launched a GiveSendGo page to help us pay the bills. It’s brand new so don’t be discouraged by the lack of donations there. It’s a funny reality that the fewer the donations that have been made, the less likely people are willing to donate to it. One would think this is counterintuitive, but sometimes people are skeptical because they think that perhaps there’s a reason others haven’t been donating. In our situation, we’re just getting started so please don’t be shy if you have the means to help.
Thank you and God bless!
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