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2 min read

Homelessness Today: Why Housing First Isn't Working

Each year, as the November elections approach, our staff members and volunteers are often asked about the homeless crisis in Spokane. Why is the number of homeless individuals only rising year after year? Why doesn’t the city build more low-income housing? What can we do to create positive change? To answer these questions, it’s important to first understand our government's current response to the crisis.

Under the Obama administration, the Housing First model was implemented nationwide. It claimed that homelessness would be solved by 2017. The strategy? Take individuals who’d been homeless for years, many of them with life-long addictions, and put a roof over their heads. This was going to save the taxpayer money that was currently being spent on emergency services for the homeless, and it was presented as a safe and humane, one-size-fits-all solution. At face value, it sounds altruistic: who wouldn’t want the homeless to be housed? 

Fast forward to today: 2022. For the size of our city, Spokane has one of the nation’s most robust Housing First programs, and yet the number of people living on the streets, committing drug crimes, and creating unsafe streets downtown has only gone up. Why? Housing First has shunted large sums of potentially beneficial state and local funding away from programs that provide wraparound services (case management, job training, recovery, etc.) and into basic housing. And what happens when you put a roof over someone’s head who has never learned to maintain a home or is still living for the next high? Units are often uncared for, people are in and out of housing—living in chaos—, and most still require the emergency services we were told would no longer be needed. Most recipients are not finding stability or quality of life through the Housing First model. In short, it isn't working. In the five years after the U.S. adopted Housing First as its exclusive solution to combatting homelessness, the number of unsheltered homeless individuals increased more than 20%.
Homeless person's belongings
Whereas Housing First essentially rewards those engaged in self-destructive habits, programs like UGM reward positive changes and help people find joy and satisfaction in life. We believe it is far more humane to keep in place consequences for self-destructive behaviors and encourage those in need to pursue healing than it is to reward the behavior that is hurting them. At UGM, there's warmth, shelter, food, and all the support needed to find holistic recovery before launching a sustainable life.


“We believe it is far more humane to keep in place consequences for self-destructive behaviors and encourage those in need to pursue healing than it is to reward the behavior that is hurting them.”

So, how can we change the course of our city and state’s response to homelessness?  Write to your City Council, participate in community meetings, attend the Homeless Coalition, vote.

Phil Altmeyer recently weighed in on this topic: "What I’ve noticed by being a part of these conversations is that it is only a few council members who are ultimately responsible for making the decisions that impact us all. When you no longer believe you have a voice in the matter, that's where your ability to be a force for change ends." Your vote can make the difference between another Housing First program receiving funding and more beneficial programs being developed.

Man on streets with help bag
The greatest news is that through your partnership with UGM, you’re already investing in positive change, and since we don’t accept government funding, our programs always offer a holistic approach to ending homelessness, no matter the political climate. The services you’re making available through your support include everything a person needs to rebuild his or her life. In the words of UGM alumna Elizabeth, “They want to hold your hand to the finish line and take you from broken to who God made you to be.”

woman and child

We want you to be aware of what the Federal and local government are doing to curb homelessness, but even more importantly, we want you to see what God is doing right here through your faithful dedication. Lives are changing, whole families are receiving healing, the gospel is going forward, and homelessness is ending for hundreds of men, women, and children each year. 

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