Unsheltered homelessness is on the rise amid a systemic and widespread lack of affordable housing, supportive services, and livable wages. As the housing crisis worsens, homelessness has become increasingly visible and, as a result, increasingly dominant as a public concern.
Instead of addressing the issue’s root causes—a lack of housing and supportive services—many cities have leaned into punitive responses that criminalize homelessness, such as arresting people for sitting or sleeping in certain public places. But this approach is costly and ineffective. Police don’t solve homelessness, they only move it around—to other neighborhoods, jails, and emergency rooms—rather than connecting people with the housing and services they need.
What would it take to actually end homelessness for people living on the street? And how would that affect the time and resources police spend managing the problem without solving it? New data from a supportive housing program in Denver show what could happen when communities address the underlying causes of homelessness rather than continuing the status quo.