Health care and public service use and costs before and after provision of housing for chronically homeless persons with severe alcohol problems

JAMA. 2009 Apr 1;301(13):1349-57. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.414.


Context: Chronically homeless individuals with severe alcohol problems often have multiple medical and psychiatric problems and use costly health and criminal justice services at high rates.

Objective: To evaluate association of a "Housing First" intervention for chronically homeless individuals with severe alcohol problems with health care use and costs.

Design, setting, and participants: Quasi-experimental design comparing 95 housed participants (with drinking permitted) with 39 wait-list control participants enrolled between November 2005 and March 2007 in Seattle, Washington.

Main outcome measures: Use and cost of services (jail bookings, days incarcerated, shelter and sobering center use, hospital-based medical services, publicly funded alcohol and drug detoxification and treatment, emergency medical services, and Medicaid-funded services) for Housing First participants relative to wait-list controls.

Results: Housing First participants had total costs of $8,175,922 in the year prior to the study, or median costs of $4066 per person per month (interquartile range [IQR], $2067-$8264). Median monthly costs decreased to $1492 (IQR, $337-$5709) and $958 (IQR, $98-$3200) after 6 and 12 months in housing, respectively. Poisson generalized estimating equation regressions using propensity score adjustments showed total cost rate reduction of 53% for housed participants relative to wait-list controls (rate ratio, 0.47; 95% confidence interval, 0.25-0.88) over the first 6 months. Total cost offsets for Housing First participants relative to controls averaged $2449 per person per month after accounting for housing program costs.

Conclusions: In this population of chronically homeless individuals with high service use and costs, a Housing First program was associated with a relative decrease in costs after 6 months. These benefits increased to the extent that participants were retained in housing longer.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism* / economics
  • Community Health Services / economics
  • Community Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Community Mental Health Services / economics
  • Community Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Medical Services / economics
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs* / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services / economics*
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prisons / economics
  • Prisons / statistics & numerical data
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Housing* / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers / economics
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • Washington