Pathways to Housing PA Challenges Assumptions about Homelessness

Submitted by: Pathways to Housing PA

Sometimes the hardest part of solving a problem is identifying false assumptions. Until Netflix, Blockbuster seemed convenient. Until Warby Parker, frame manufacturing seemed expensive. Until Facebook, online behavior didn’t seem like something you could sell.

In homeless services, the limiting assumption is that people living on the streets with untreated mental illness or addiction cannot live independently. That was the assumption until organizations like Pathways to Housing PA, located in Philadelphia, started putting it to the test.

The model Pathways uses is simple. Termed Housing First, the belief is that human beings are better able to address complex trauma, severe mental illness, and long-term addiction from the safety and stability of their own homes.

The Housing First model works. Pathways boasts an 85% housing retention rate after five years, much higher than traditional services, which average only 60% after three years. These numbers are particularly surprising considering that Pathways houses some of the most chronically homeless individuals in the city, often considered “not housing ready” by other programs.

Understanding the program’s success requires examining more assumptions. While sleeping indoors may seem always preferable to being on the streets, many mentally ill people struggle with severe paranoia and traumatic histories. If the only indoor option for these individuals is a chaotic shelter or overcrowded group home, many feel safer staying on the streets. By offering individ