Natalie Williams
A simple solution to homelessness

In May 2015, a place called Medicine Hat became the first city in Canada to virtually eliminate homelessness - people living on the streets. How did they attain what sounds like a remarkable achievement? Simply put: they gave homeless people housing.
The project started in 2009 when decision-makers pledged to put an end to homelessness in their city. The ethos behind the initiative is that rather than asking homeless people to deal with mental health issues, addictions, etc., before they can be provided with housing, it makes more sense to give them a home first. That’s why the project is called Housing First.
Medicine Hat’s Mayor Clugston told reporters that it costs around $20,000 per year to house someone, compared with $100,000 per year if someone is living on the streets.
And last year Canada’s first nation-wide study into homelessness confirmed that giving those who are homeless homes really does save money – the “groundbreaking” At Home-Chez Soi study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada discovered that for every $10 spent on the most chronically homeless (that is, those who access multiple services), there were savings of $22.
In Medicine Hat, visits to hospital emergency rooms and interactions with the police have dropped. As Mayor Clugston puts it: “This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people.”
Crucially, the study also found that once given a home, people were more likely to participate in services to help them with mental health problems and substance abuse. Interestingly, in Medicine Hat they have found that court appearances have risen – the mayor explains this as: “They end up dealing with their past, atoning for their sins.”
Proportionally we have a much lower number of people living on the streets than Canada but it seems that we could learn from this project, especially now the case for the simple approach of housing the homeless can now be made not just morally, but economically too.