Poverty and Housing

Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income, and Permanent Supportive Housing programs help people experiencing homelessness survive.

Poverty is the single most powerful barrier to housing for people emerging from homelessness and people with disabilities who struggle to survive financially in our communities. Housing combined with the cost of other necessities, such as food, clothing, medical care, and transportation, can easily exceed their income. The housing problems of people with mental and/or substance use disorders are directly related to the amount of income they have available to pay for housing. Federal housing affordability guidelines state that very low-income households, defined as households with incomes at or below 50% of median income, should generally pay no more than 30% of their income towards housing costs. Learn more about housing affordability problems experienced by people with disabilities.

The primary sources of income for individuals unable to work, including those whose disability stems from mental illness, are the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. SSDI provides benefits to people who are disabled or blind based on the worker’s lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security. While some people in SAMHSA’s priority populations have work histories and receive SSDI, most receive income support from SSI. The SSI program makes cash assistance payments to people who are aged, blind, or disabled who have limited income and resources. It can be challenging for people with behavioral health disorders who are also experiencing or at risk of homelessness to access SSI/SSDI benefits. SAMHSA’s SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) Technical Assistance Center is a national project designed to increase access to the disability income benefit programs administered by the U.S. Social Security Administration for eligible adults who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, and have a mental and/or substance use disorder.

Permanent Supportive Housing

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is an evidence-based practice that includes access to decent, safe, and affordable housing. PSH is integrated, community-based housing that provides people with all rights of tenancy under state and local landlord tenant laws. In the PSH model, the housing is linked to voluntary and flexible supports and services designed to meet individual needs and preferences. Individuals who can most benefit from PSH include people with disabilities (including those with mental and/or substance use disorders) who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, institutionalized, or at risk of institutionalization. PSH differs from traditional residential treatment models that are programmatic or transitional in nature. While these programs do provide time-limited shelter, they are first and foremost treatment-oriented programs. In residential treatment, participants do not have leases or tenancy rights, the housing is often contingent on participation in treatment or other designated services, and lengths of stays are generally pre-established.

Learn more about supportive housing from the Permanent Supportive Housing Evidence-Based Practices (EBP) KIT – 2010. Learn more about Housing First at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Find information about the housing resources available through the Continuum of Care Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Exchange.

Last Updated: 03/22/2017