Jennifer Egan Discusses a Solution for Chronic Homelessness

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About 1.4 million people in the United States end up in homeless shelters every year, many thousands more living on the street. You could fill the city of San Diego with the unhoused. The problem seems gigantic, tragic, and intractable. But there are proven solutions. For the chronically homeless, a key strategy is supportive housing, which provides not only a stable apartment but also services like psychiatric and medical care on-site. The New Yorker contributor Jennifer Egan spent the past year following several individuals who had been homeless for long periods of time as they transitioned into a new supportive-housing building in New York. “Is it easy to bring people with these kinds of difficult histories into one place in the span of eight months? No,” she tells David Remnick. “Does it work? From what I have seen, the answer is yes.” By one estimate, addressing the country’s homelessness problem would cost about ten billion dollars. But Egan argues that the figure pales in comparison with what we’re spending on the problem in the form of emergency medical care, emergency shelter, and other piecemeal solutions. “No one wants to see that line item in a budget, but we are already spending it in all of these diffuse ways,” she says. “We are hemorrhaging money at this problem.”


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