The Battle Over Housing First: Conservative Pushback on Homelessness Policy


Homelessness Policy
  • news by AUN News correspondent
  • Wednesday, June 21, 2023
  • AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090


  • The article explores the contentious debate surrounding Housing First, a policy that provides homeless individuals with permanent housing without preconditions.
  • While Housing First has been praised as a compassionate and evidence-based approach, it has faced conservative pushback.
  • Republican lawmakers, backed by conservative think tanks and organisations denied funding by Housing First rules, seek to loosen the policy’s grip on federal dollars.
  • Critics argue that Housing First ignores underlying problems and calls for funding to be shifted to programmes that demand sobriety or employment.
  • The battle over Housing First is not just a policy dispute but also a new ideological and political flashpoint.
  • Former President Donald J. Trump and others on the right have used it to criticise Democratic governance.
  • However, proponents argue that Housing First is essential for saving lives and helping individuals address other challenges once they have stable housing.
  • Evidence-based research has shown that the policy is effective in reducing chronic homelessness.


The bipartisan approach to federal homelessness policy, known as Housing First, is facing growing conservative opposition. Housing First directs significant funding towards providing homeless individuals with permanent housing while offering optional services such as mental health treatment and substance abuse programmes. This approach has been widely studied and expanded under both Republican and Democratic administrations. However, conservatives argue against Housing First, claiming that it disregards the underlying issues faced by the homelessness and advocating for funding to be shifted towards programmes that require sobriety or employment. Some even blame Housing First for the increase in homelessness. This clash of ideologies has become an ideological and political flashpoint, with former President Donald J. Trump and others on the right using it to criticise Democratic governance in liberal cities. This article will delve into the battle over Housing First and explore the arguments and consequences surrounding this contentious issue.

1. The Emergence of Housing First: A Paradigm Shift in Homelessness Policy

1.1 The Staircase Model and Its Limitations

In the past, homeless services followed a staircase model, where individuals were expected to progress from shelters to transitional programmes before being deemed ready for permanent housing. However, this approach had several weaknesses, including inadequate services and high failure rates. Many individuals ended up back on the streets due to noncompliance with programme requirements.

1.2 The Introduction of Housing First

Housing First challenged the traditional approach by prioritising immediate housing without preconditions. The belief was that stable housing would enable individuals to address other challenges in their lives effectively. While Housing First did include services like psychiatric treatment, participation in these services was voluntary, not mandatory.

1.3 Early Successes and Evidence-Based Support

Early results of Housing First programmes showed promising outcomes, dispelling initial concerns that individuals would leave or face eviction. Proponents of Housing First emphasised its evidence-based nature, pointing to studies that demonstrated its effectiveness.

2. The Growth of Housing First and Bipartisan Support

2.1 The Expansion of Housing First under Republican and Democratic Administrations

Housing First gained significant momentum during the Republican administration of George W. Bush. Philip F. Mangano, the top homelessness official at the time, played a pivotal role in promoting Housing First programmes. Subsequently, the Obama administration incorporated a preference for Housing First into federal grant programmes, resulting in substantial funding for local initiatives.

2.2 Declining Rates of Chronic Homelessness

The implementation of Housing First contributed to a notable decrease in chronic homelessness from 2007 to 2016, indicating positive progress in addressing the issue. The success stories fueled optimism among social workers and fostered a belief that homelessness could be eradicated.

3. The Conservative Backlash Against Housing First

3.1 The Rise of Criticism and Political Exploitation

With the growth of homelessness policy and the prevalence of tent encampments, criticism against Housing First has intensified, particularly from conservative circles. Republican lawmakers, supported by conservative think tanks and organisations denied funding under Housing First guidelines, have begun challenging the policy’s dominance.

3.2 Ideological Motivations and Political Rivalry

The battle over Housing First is not only a policy dispute but also a political flashpoint. Former President Trump and other conservatives have used it to criticise Democratic governance in liberal cities. Joe Lonsdale, a prominent tech mogul and supporter of conservative causes, has characterised Housing First as a “Marxist” attempt to blame homelessness on capitalism. This clash has created a new ideological division within the homelessness policy arena.

3.3 Arguments Against Housing First

Housing First is criticised for failing to address clients’ needs and for ignoring the causes of homelessness. They claim that it is a faulty strategy to only concentrate on housing while ignoring issues like mental health, addiction, and unemployment. Critics contend that before receiving permanent accommodation, homeless people should first satisfy specific criteria, such as upholding sobriety or taking part in work programmes.

Additionally, some conservatives claim that Housing First promotes a culture of dependency by undervaluing individual accountability. They contend that by providing accommodation without strict criteria, the programme dissuades people from looking for work or trying to get their situation better.

In addition, Housing First detractors assert that rather than eliminating homelessness, the strategy actually increases it. They contend that offering permanent housing without addressing the root causes of homelessness could encourage more people to lose their housing, creating a vicious cycle of being reliant on public assistance.

Conservative detractors frequently call for a revival of transitional housing initiatives, which offer temporary housing while people try to overcome their difficulties. They contend that these programmes can provide a structured setting that addresses difficulties with addiction, mental health, and work, putting people on a path to independence.

4. The Impact of the Housing First Debate

4.1 Policy Implications

The battle over Housing First has significant policy implications. If conservative critics succeed in scaling back or eliminating Housing First initiatives, funding could be redirected towards programmes that emphasise transitional housing and mandatory requirements. This shift in policy could have consequences for homeless individuals, who may face more stringent conditions before accessing permanent housing.

4.2 Public Perception and Political Divisions

Politicians, supporters, and the general public have sharply disagreed on the Housing First issue, exposing the significant disparity in viewpoints. Some individuals on one end of the spectrum believe that Housing First is a kind and fact-based strategy for addressing homelessness. They think that giving people access to immediate accommodation without any constraints saves lives and gives people a chance to stabilise their lives, potentially resulting in favourable long-term outcomes.

These proponents contend that by making housing a top priority, people can have a secure setting from which to address their underlying problems. They cite studies and success tales that show the beneficial effects of Housing First programmes, emphasising the sharp decline in chronic homelessness and the enhanced wellbeing of participants.

On the other hand, detractors believe that Housing First is an ineffective strategy that fails to address the underlying causes of homelessness and maintains a cycle of dependency. They contend that the programme eliminates incentives for individual accountability and self-improvement by providing accommodation without requiring residents to fulfil specific requirements, such as sobriety or a job.

Advocates for Transitional Housing

For these opponents, the emphasis should be on programmes for transitional housing that offer short-term lodging while people work on resolving their problems. They contend that these initiatives, which frequently compel people to take part in treatment or employment programmes, provide a structured setting that encourages individual development and independence. According to detractors, transitional housing can be a step towards self-sufficiency, giving residents the tools and assistance they need to reintegrate into society.

Divergent viewpoints on Housing First have sparked spirited discussions as well as political rivalry and ideological confrontations. The gap has widened even farther in cities where homelessness is a serious problem. Politicians are caught in the middle of the conflict, with some arguing for the extension of Housing First programmes and others calling for a go-back to more conventional transitional housing arrangements.

It has become difficult to find common ground because of these divisions. Both sides vehemently defend their ideas, frequently accusing the other of being naive or lacking empathy. The polarisation that results prevents the creation of broad and successful approaches to combating homelessness.

It is critical to keep in mind that, as the fight continues, the objective should be to identify creative, inclusive strategies that give equal weight to immediate housing needs and essential support services. It could be possible to find a balance that allays opponents’ fears while still giving homeless people the security and dignity of permanent residence by bridging the gap between residence First and transitional housing.

We can only expect to get closer to ending homelessness and building a society where everyone has a place to call home by promoting constructive discourse and teamwork.

4.3 Finding Common Ground

Despite the polarising nature of the debate, there is room for finding common ground between the two sides. Both Housing First and transitional housing programmes have shown positive outcomes in certain contexts. A balanced approach that combines immediate housing with mandatory supportive services could address the concerns raised by conservatives while still providing the stability and dignity of permanent housing to those in need.


The battle over Housing First reflects ideological and political divisions surrounding homelessness policy. While Housing First has gained bipartisan support and demonstrated success in reducing chronic homelessness, conservative critics argue that it neglects underlying issues and perpetuates dependency. The clash of ideologies has fueled a contentious debate with implications for policy, public perception, and the lives of homeless individuals. Finding common ground between the proponents of Housing First and those advocating for transitional housing may be key to developing comprehensive solutions that address both the immediate housing needs and the underlying challenges faced by homeless individuals.

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