From Housing First to a Full Community Approach: Redefining the Response to Chronic Homelessness

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From Housing First to a Full Community Approach: Redefining the Response to Chronic Homelessness

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For the last twenty-five years our society has taken a “Housing First” approach to homelessness, that is, offering housing without prerequisites and offering voluntary social services. Despite a federal commitment to the investment in affordable housing and professional services, chronic homelessness has only increased. During this same period, a faith-based group has been sleeping on the streets alongside those experiencing chronic homelessness to listen to their stories and understand their struggles. After logging thousands of overnights, they could conclude that what people had lost, beyond housing and services, was a “profound and catastrophic loss of family.” If people were to exit years and even decades of homelessness, they would need to be supported within a family-like community where they could gain a sense of belonging, a major gap in the Housing First research. This group is now the largest tiny home village in the nation with more than 500 individuals. However, what makes this case significant is not its size but the “community-first” philosophy they have founded. One-quarter of the homes are filled with intentional, resourced neighbors choosing to live in the community as good neighbors and augmenting that role of family that has been lost. This phenomenon of former drug addicts, prostitutes, and felons, arguably the most despised outcasts of our society, finding meaning and purpose is noteworthy. This dissertation is the first formal description and analysis of the community-first approach to homelessness. It synthesizes the ideas behind the founding example and examines them by comparing two other community-oriented initiatives. The result is five key elements identified for application of the philosophy across the nation through a proposed “Full Community” approach.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. January 2023. Major: Design, Housing and Apparel. Advisor: Julia Robinson. 1 computer file (PDF); xiii, 315 pages.

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Clowdus, Gabrielle. (2023). From Housing First to a Full Community Approach: Redefining the Response to Chronic Homelessness. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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