What is “Housing-First”?

At Bartlett Housing Solutions, we have implemented the ‘Housing-First’ initiative in our efforts to end homelessness. Since 2017, when our organization first incorporated this initiative into our operations, we have seen an improvement in results across the board. But there are still questions as to ‘What is Housing-First?’. The following information is provided courtesy of the National Alliance To End Homelessness.


What is Housing-First?

Housing-First is a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues. Additionally, Housing-First is based on the theory that client choice is valuable in housing selection and supportive service participation, and that exercising that choice is likely to make a client more successful in remaining housed and improving their life.

How is Housing-First different from other approaches?

Housing-First does not require people experiencing homelessness to address all of their problems including behavioral health problems or to graduate through a series of services programs before they can access housing. Housing-First does not mandate participation in services either before obtaining housing or in order to retain housing. The Housing-First approach views housing as the foundation for life improvement and enables access to permanent housing without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter. Supportive services are offered to support people with housing stability and individual well-being, but participation is not required as services have been found to be more effective when a person chooses to engage. Other approaches do make such requirements in order for a person to obtain and retain housing.

Who can be helped by Housing-First?

A Housing-First approach can benefit both homeless families and individuals with any degree of service needs. The flexible and responsive nature of a Housing-First approach allows it to be tailored to help anyone. As such, a Housing-First approach can be applied to help end homelessness for a household who became homeless due to a temporary personal or financial crisis and has limited service needs, only needing help accessing and securing permanent housing. At the same time, Housing-First has been found to be a particularly effective approach to ending homelessness for high need populations, such as chronically homeless individuals.

What are the elements of a Housing-First program? Housing-First programs often provide rental assistance that varies in duration depending on the household’s needs. Consumers sign a standard lease and are able to access supportive services as necessary to help them do so. A variety of voluntary services may be used to promote housing stability and well-being during and following housing placement.

Two common program models follow the Housing-First approach but differ in implementation. Permanent supportive housing (PSH) is targeted to individuals and families with chronic illnesses, disabilities, mental health issues, or substance use disorders who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness. It provides long-term rental assistance and supportive services.

A second program model, rapid re-housing, is employed for a wide variety of individuals and families. It provides short-term rental assistance and services. The goals are to help people obtain housing quickly, increase self-sufficiency, and remain housed. The Core Components of rapid re-housing—housing identification, rent and move-in assistance, and case management and services—operationalize Housing-First principals.