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How to curb chronic homelessness? First, a home!

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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.

A Jan. 18 press release by the Na­tion­al Alliance to End Home­less­ness cited permanent supportive housing as the greatest factor in the recent decline of chronic homelessness. Four cities considered leaders in permanent supportive housing have seen noteworthy drops in chronic homelessness: Chicago (12 percent); Norfolk, Va. (25 percent); Quincy, Mass. (50 percent); and Wichita/Sedgwick County, Kan. (51 percent).

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