Housing First Versus Transitional Housing: Neither Alone is the Answer

Kerry Morrison full-heartedly agrees that transitional shelters are an essential part of the equation of successfully solving this homeless crisis along with the housing-first approach.

Morrison is the executive director of Hollywood Property Owners Alliance as well as a commissioner at Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LASHA). She sees transitional shelters as a good basis to operate from when connecting homeless individuals to other types of services.

“I don’t see how we can make meaningful progress toward housing people when we have no home base to operate from,” she says.

Two arguments popular in reform rhetoric are the housing first policy and transitional shelter policy.

Housing first argues that homeless individuals need housing above anything else and that once they are in permanent housing, they can then be treated and supported through wrap-around services.

The transitional shelters policy is based on the belief that homeless individuals need a middle step along the way, being provided temporary shelter where they can receive intensive case management and support to help them transition into permanent housing.

I believe that both schools of thoughts need to be implemented together, immediately, with the focus of building more transitional shelters in Los Angeles

The federal government has put a priority on housing first. The government has slowly defunded transitional shelters in support of building more permanent low-income housing. Because of this change in funding policy, transitional shelters are being shut down or exist with poorly maintained facilities and little to no resources.

I believe that permanent low-income housing is an essential key to solving the homeless crisis that spans across this country. But, I also believe that quality transitional housing is another essential key for solving this social issue.

There is a need for compromise that includes both policies, especially in Los Angeles.

Making this an “either/or” argument creates division and weakens the overall momentum of change. Those who claim to be on the same side are the same people on the sidelines arguing over whose way is better.

There is also an ethical aspect of transitional shelters. Shelters provide a bed to sleep in, a roof over someone’s head, and a type of security that cannot exist when living on the sidewalk.

The implications of the housing first model is that it’s acceptable for those individuals who are currently homeless and have not received permanent housing to sleep on the streets in the meantime. Transitional shelters are the answer to preventing individuals from sleeping on the streets.

We need quality services in the form of transitional shelters and permanent housing. Permanent housing is only beneficial with good supportive transitional housing. Service providers need to be able to track and stay in contact with homeless individuals as they move from one type of shelter to the other.

According to Morrison, her organization saw success with a project like this in Hollywood a few years ago.

“We experienced the greatest success moving people from the street into a home when we had a temporary place to house them,” she says.

I believe that Los Angeles needs more of these projects, community members working together to form their best approach, using every tactic in the book to address homelessness. Without this type of collaboration, I am afraid division might become the biggest downfall in the quest address homelessness.


Maddie Keating is a candidate for a Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management degree at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. She wrote this article while taking the school’s Media for Policy Change course.

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