A new and kindred body of research– this one from the Discovery Institute- exposes the failures of “Housing First” as a one-size-fits-all approach to homelessness. No wonder “the advocates” are getting nervous

In 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) claimed that shifting to a Housing First approach would end homelessness in ten years. “The failure of their prediction is rooted in flawed assumptions about the nature of the crisis, especially the prevalence of untreated mental illness and drug use disorders within the homelessness community,” according to the paper’s author, Dr. Robert Marbut. 

As I also point out in research published earlier this year, the Housing First approach is rooted in a misunderstanding of the homeless population.  “Efforts to address this web of interlocking crises are doomed to failure if they begin with an inadequate diagnosis of the causes. Though lack of housing is a major factor in what we call homelessness, it is erroneous to view homelessness as primarily— let alone solely—a housing problem that can be solved through an approach that ignores untreated mental illness. In essence, we have created an enormous federal homelessness assistance program which is functionally equivalent to Section 8 Housing — but with no rules.”

HUD insists that services are available to those placed in housing- if requested- which further underscores the ignorance of the approach.

More than three-quarters of the street homeless are battling substance-use disorder and/or mental illness. A majority of the addicted/mentally ill also struggle with anosognosia, a deficit of self-awareness.

In practice- and to the surprise of few who understand these diseases and human nature- the housed scarcely request treatment services once they are comfortably housed and able to continue to engage in negative behaviors.

But what HUD keeps awfully quiet is that they wholly defunded these services as part of the Housing First roll out, instead funneling all resources into housing subsidies alone.


The results of this national experiment are grim. Despite a 42.7% increase in permanent housing units dedicated to the homeless, pre-COVID HUD data shows a 15.6% increase in homelessness and a 20.5% increase in unsheltered, largely street, homelessness.

In California- the only state to fully adopt Housing First- presents even more dire outcomes.  Despite a 33% increase in the number of permanent housing units, California’s homeless population rose by 33.8% overall, by 47.1% in the unsheltered population.

Considering that both scenarios occurred during a period of robust economic growth and a 200%+ increase in spending at the federal level and 100%+ increase in California, this experiment is a failure of seismic proportions.

But too often in government, nothing succeeds like failure. 

Picture of Michele Steeb

Michele Steeb

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.