Saturday, November 28, 2015

A guaranteed home in the context of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I live in Salt Lake City and have taken note of the homeless since I moved here. I see them mostly in the parks downtown, usually sleeping somewhere in the sun, or covered up on a bench on cold mornings. I've lived here long enough now to notice that this year, something is missing. The homeless. Oh, there are still some who linger, but since the State of Utah instituted their Housing First program in 2005, they have been on track to end chronic homelessness in 2015. Here is a report that documents their findings.

Utah has found that not only do they reduce chronic homelessness, but they save thousands of dollars on each person by giving people a home. I know, it seems counterintuitive. Where they were spending $20,000 a year before on each person, now they spend about $12,000. By giving the homeless a home, they cut the burden on the shelters, the hospitals and the jails. Saving money is something that conservatives love to do in government and they are right to celebrate this success. Everyone wins here.

Now Utah is well known as a conservative state. I see it in the numbers in the legislature, the people who are elected to Congress and the way they run their budget. Utah is a Red State by any measure. But Utah has made an interesting deviation from the usual homeless plan which is to punish the homeless. The articles and reports I've seen so far suggest that Utah has made what might appear to be a radical observation: if people could do better, they would.

Utah is also a Mormon State. The Mormons came to Utah in the 19th century to evade the ostracism they experienced in places like New York, where the Mormon ideology was born. The idea of giving the homeless a home is totally consistent with the radical communitarian origins of Mormon ideology. Indeed, Joseph Smith, one of the founders of the Mormon culture, "... called for Zion to be a classless commune in which Mormons would “hold all things in common." (link to quote paywalled)

We know communitarianism as socialism or communism today, but Mormons tend to downplay this aspect of their ideology, preferring instead to emphasize individual morality. The Wilson Quarterly has some interesting analysis that is summed up well in the following paragraph:
Mormons today tend to “downplay the radically countercultural aspects” of Zion, such as the elimination of poverty, inequality, and war. The Mormon church instead focuses on individual morality and the importance of family.
See, not only did the state give homeless homes, they gave them counseling to help them with their demons and put their life back on track. The Washington Post has an interesting account of the story here. A few searches on Google confirm the findings with consistency between articles on the reporting. The facts of the success of Utah's homeless program are clear: Giving homeless people homes to end homelessness works.

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on the topic called, Housing First. This article has identified a successful method of dealing with the chronic homeless. The article documents how numerous jurisdictions that have tried Housing First have found success for one simple reason. Housing is a basic human need. Solve that problem, and the homeless person now has a foundation to solve all other problems.

Housing First, also confirms the findings of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. See the chart below for a visual representation of this concept:

The human need for a home is right above the base, physiological needs like air, water and food. Having a home satisfies the basic need for safety. Once that need is satisfied, the foundation is set for meeting other needs.

I am reminded of how women, once married, seek a home rather than an apartment if they can get a home. My wife was like that. She was not content with an apartment - she wanted a home to call our own. Now we live in a home, have a family and recognize the need for a home as a foundation for kids to grow, for adults to work from and to retire in.

Utah has a model program that other cities and states can follow. Instead of punishing the homeless, this program assumes that if people could do better, they would. To help homeless people do better, they give them a home. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs correctly predicts that when basic needs are met, higher order tasks can be accomplished. You know, like getting a job, paying the bills and joining society again.
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