In the past eight years, Utah, a Republican state, has reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015. How? By giving people homes. In 2005, it figured out that it cost the state $16,670 per person to cover E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people. It would only cost $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. Utah started a Housing First program that gives, with no strings attached, a homeless person an apartment and a social worker to help him or her become self-sufficient. Even if the homeless person does not end up becoming self-sufficient, she or he gets to keep the apartment.
New Yorker writer Ian Frazier wrote a long story on homelessness in NYC and confirmed that the state spends around over three-thousand dollars a month to put a family in a shelter. Contrast Utah’s approach to other states’ which ban the feeding of homeless people in parks or order cops to arrest anyone sleeping in public. One could understand Utah’s actions as simply a matter of crunching the numbers, but at the heart of its actions is also a firm take on what it means to be human: Is a homeless person a full human with potential that can be cultivated with some charity, or an annoying statistic on the street that needs to be “managed” and shoved to the side? The latter entails that an approach that tries to “nudge” the homeless off the streets through coercive tactics; the former entails an approach that equips the homeless with resources that try to elevate their behavior (read more about our distinction between shifting and elevating behavior). The principled and the cost-effective have converged. This is a good innovation in the HOW of charity or public service.