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Moving the homeless out of shelters, into homes

A new approach is being heralded not only as more successful in fighting chronic homelessness, but more cost effective.

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Two weeks ago, Moises and Jennifer Cedano expected to spend the next four to six months in a homeless shelter while they saved enough money for a deposit to rent an apartment.

Today they watch two of their three children, Timothy and Francisco, jump with joy on a new bed in a new apartment.

They rented the place with help from the city's Department of Homeless Services, which decided that in the long run, it will be less expensive to help the family get stabilized in their own apartment than to have them cycle into the shelter system.

The Cedanos' experience is a reflection of a fundamental transformation in thinking about homelessness and the new model's success in combating what was once thought to be an intractable social problem.

New focus for urban homelessness

From New York to Dallas to Seattle, cities across the country are focusing not just on emergency shelter, but on getting the homeless homes. As a result, they're seeing reductions in the numbers of chronically homeless people on their streets and in their shelters. The movement, known as Housing First, has had the most success in moving the chronically homeless, mentally ill, and drug addicted into housing complexes with social services, like counseling. That's proved to be more effective and less expensive than leaving people on the streets or in shelters. Now, the concept is being expanded and adapted to help the growing number of potentially homeless families like the Cedanos, giving them short-term help in getting back on their feet and, where possible, long-term help with rent subsidies.

"There's a paradigm shift occurring," says Dennis Culhane, a homelessness expert at the University of Pennsylvania. "The successes ... achieved among chronically homeless adults have led people to understand that that same paradigm shift can apply to all homeless families."

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