Supportive Housing and the Mentally Ill Homeless

This report looks at supportive housing, which combines subsidized rents with services, in New York, a state that has used supportive housing as the central part of its efforts to address homelessness. When the government began building supportive housing on a broad scale in the early 1990s, the principal beneficiaries were individuals suffering from both homelessness and serious mental illness. In recent years the focus has broadened to include other populations, such as those recovering from substance abuse and youths aging out of foster homes.

This report first finds that supportive housing’s ability to reduce overall homelessness has been shown to be modest. The studies they look at indicate that placing the homeless in supportive housing reduces expenditures on other government services, but the cost savings are truly significant only in the case of the seriously mentally ill.

Secondly, it finds that based on a review of the literature, analysis of city data, and interviews with providers, advocates, and current and former officials, New York would be better served by dedicating two-thirds of the total units from the Mayo Bill De Blasio’s $2.6 billion supportive-housing plan to homeless individuals diagnosed with a serious mental illness, such as bipolar depression or schizophrenia. This would leave city government better positioned, over the next two decades, to address untreated mental illness and still leave 5,000 units available to serve other needy populations.

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