Permanent Supportive Housing Can Be the Ticket to Ending Homelessness

September 2, 2015

By Corrin Buchanan and Chris Hubbard

The number of individuals experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County jumped 12 percent in the last two years, and our neighbors become homeless for a variety of reasons every day. This makes clear the need for increased investment in the interventions proven to end homelessness. The issue isn’t one sector’s problem to solve. We need political will from our elected officials, strong collaboration between government agencies and community-based partners, leadership from the private sector and support from all Angelenos—because homelessness affects us all.

More than half of L.A.’s homeless individuals are dealing with mental illness, chronic medical problems or substance use; many struggle with more than one of these. To effectively help these individuals requires creating more permanent supportive housing: combining subsidized housing with an organized and coordinated set of on-site services including case management, health care and mental health care.

In addition to best serving the needs of the chronically homeless, permanent supportive housing leads to significant cost savings. The per-person costs of homeless individuals utilizing Los Angeles County services are 3.7 times higher than it would cost to provide that same individual with permanent supportive housing (see chart below).

Los Angeles is one of the most expensive housing markets in America, with a severe lack of affordable and permanent supportive housing. To address this need, public agencies are stepping up in new ways to help provide housing options for people experiencing homelessness. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) created the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool in January 2014 to secure permanent supportive housing for DHS patients who are homeless. The pool was launched through a cross-sector partnership, including a $14 million commitment from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and $4 million from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

By providing housing for frequent users of the health system, DHS has found it can reduce emergency room visits and inpatient admissions and can save an average of $32,000 per person housed each year. By the end of 2015, DHS will have housed 600 individuals. Using the local pool, as well as traditional federal housing resources, DHS aims to provide housing to 10,000 individuals over the next five years.

The nonprofit, government and private sectors all have roles to play in solving chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce have teamed up with government and foundations on Home for Good, the campaign to end homelessness in Los Angeles County. Government departments are coordinating efforts city- and county-wide, local foundations are committing millions of dollars to the development of affordable and permanent supportive housing and nonprofits are coordinating efforts in their own regions to better address the needs of the individuals they serve. Although the work is far from over, these are important steps in transforming the lives of L.A. County’s most vulnerable residents.

Watch how nonprofit organization Skid Row Housing Trust provides services and permanent supportive housing to change lives:

Corrin Buchanan is program manager for Housing for Health at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Chris Hubbard is program officer for Housing & Economic Opportunity at the California Community Foundation.

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