Permanent supportive housing provides immediate access to affordable rental housing without requiring participation in psychiatric or sobriety treatment, a common deterrent for many homeless people, says HUD's Mr. Sullivan. After settling in, clients are offered a range of services to help them maintain their housing, including mental health and substance abuse counseling, health care, and job training.
The model for permanent supportive housing began taking shape decades ago, when groups serving the homeless began bringing in services to try to address those who experienced multiple stints of homelessness over short periods of time.
To critics, there is some concern about backing away from the treatment-first model. Moreover, some say that permanent supportive housing ventures could face tough times as federal stimulus money runs out. But data suggest that supportive housing has so far had a positive impact, particularly on chronic homelessness.
The chronically homeless are defined as those who have been continuously homeless for a year or more or have had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. They represent only about 18 percent of the overall homeless population but consume more than half the homeless-assistance system's resources every year.
Comparing statistics on chronic homelessness over decades is impossible, HUD says, because it did not have consistent reporting methods before 2005. But since then, the number of chronically homeless in the US has fallen from 175,914 to 107,148.