Friday, May 30, 2014

Chronically Homeless And The Frequent User Fallacy

When the government first introduced the "Housing First" model for dealing with homelessness, it included a brand new definition for a type of homeless person, the "Chronically Homeless".  The basic idea was that by putting the chronically homeless into housing first programs, it would save communities a good deal of resources and money, which could then be used to help other homeless people.  This concept assumes that Chronically Homeless people are frequent users of community resources.  They are the homeless who are often arrested by the police, visit the hospital ER more than most people, etc.  (Being that they are homeless, they have no way of paying for those services so the community has to eat the costs.)

The problem is that many Chronically Homeless people are not "frequent users" of community resources.   Yes, those homeless people who do use an excessive amount of community services are undoubtedly chronically homeless.   But, the assumption that being chronically homeless equates to frequent user is a non sequitur.   The logic does not follow.

When a community considers which homeless people to put into their Housing First program, they aren't really looking for Chronically Homeless people, but are looking for the frequent users.   Because of this many Chronically Homeless people do not get the help they need to get off the streets.

So, be wary of a community that claims they are ending, or have ended, chronic homelessness.  Most likely they haven't gotten to everyone.