Fox & Friends this morning launched a highly misleading attack on a housing project set to open this month. According to the Washington Examiner the project, which is being operated by Montgomery County, MD's Housing Opportunities Commission is being funded by $1 million in federal stimulus money, as well as $944,829 from the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs and $2.1 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the state. This led co-host Gretchen Carlson and guest Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, to bash the project onFox & Friends' recurring segment on "outrageous waste" in government spending. Watch:
But Carlson and Fitton's depiction of the program leaves out numerous important details. According to the Examiner, the facility will be a "housing first" project, a program well known not only for its success in actually ending homelessness, but also for reducing the cost of delivering services to the homeless. As Jon Morgenstern, vice president at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University pointed out:
Certainly, the program has done a good job of providing stable housing. In New York City, 84% of the active alcohol and drug-user population remained in housing 18 months after the start of the program, a figure that was higher than another housing program that required clients to get substance-abuse treatment. These results are consistent with other research on the subject.
Housing first programs are thought to save money because homeless substance abusers are perpetually in crisis and, as a result, use such expensive services such as emergency rooms, ambulances and hospital detoxification services. The cost of these crisis services can run well over $100,000 a person in one year, far greater than the cost of a housing first program.
Is that actually what happens in practice? Early findings are promising. In one study, chronically homeless alcoholics in Seattle were selected on the basis of their extensive use of crisis services in the prior year and placed in a housing first program. After one year, the cost of services was $13,400 a client, a savings of more than $42,000 a client.
A similar project in Seattle found that housing chronic alcoholics who frequently visited emergency rooms or jails reduced median costs per person from $4,000 per month to $1,500 per month. But the success of the project is not only in its ability to save money. The New York City program, for example, Pathways to Housing, "maintains an 85% retention rate even amongst those individuals not considered 'housing ready' by other programs." Other programs are even more promising, showing as much as a 95% retention rate.
Of course, neither Carlson nor her guest mentioned the success that Housing First programs have in either reducing the financial burden of homelessness, or successfully transitioning the homeless into permanent residence. Indeed, the failure to do so significantly undercuts Carlson's claim that "we're not against trying to provide housing for the homeless, but in a more efficient way."