The Economy

Columbus Ohio has a radical idea for dealing with homeless people: give them housing!!! Amazing thing is — it works.

Columbus’s story may foretell the challenges that lie ahead for other cities,” says Dennis Culhane, who teaches social-welfare policy at the University of Pennsylvania. In its size, its age, and its underused housing resources, he explains, Columbus is more typical of what most of America faces than are higher-profile cities like New York and Chicago.

The Columbus strategy is based in part on Dr. Culhane’s research, which shed new light on the makeup of the homeless population. Studying shelters in Philadelphia and New York City in the 1990s, Culhane found that although the long-term homeless made up only 10 percent of the homeless population over three years, they were using half of all shelter beds on any given night. And when Culhane compared the costs of supporting those with and without permanent housing, he discovered that it cost a city just $1,000 more annually per person to offer supportive housing — with services for mental health, addictions, employment, and other needs — than to care for the chronically homeless.

The emergency shelter system wasn’t created for them,” Culhane says. Only with permanent shelter, he concluded, would the homeless population be drastically reduced.