The Architecture of Recovery: Two Kinds of Housing Assistance for Chronic Homeless Persons with Substance Use Disorders
Roughly half a million persons in the United States are homeless on any given night and over a third of those individuals have significant alcohol/other drug (AOD) problems. Many are chronically homeless and in need of assistance for a variety of problems. However, the literature on housing services for this population has paid limited attention to comparative analyses contrasting different approaches.
We examined the literature on housing models for homeless persons with AOD problems and critically analyzed how service settings and operations aligned with service goals.
We found two predominant housing models that reflect different service goals: Sober Living Houses (SLHs) and Housing First (HF). SLHs are communally based living arrangements that draw on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. They emphasize a living environment that promotes abstinence and peer support for recovery. HF is based on the premise that many homeless persons with substance abuse problems will reject abstinence as a goal. Therefore, the HF focus is providing subsidized or free housing and optional professional services for substance abuse, psychiatric disorders and other problems.
If homeless service providers are to develop comprehensive systems for homeless persons with AOD problems, they need to consider important contrasts in housing models, including definitions of “recovery,” roles of peer support, facility management, roles for professional service, and the architectural designs that support the mission of each type of housing.
This paper is the first to consider distinct consumer choices within homeless service systems and provide recommendations to improve each based upon an integrated analysis that considers how architecture and operations align with service goals.