More than a third of the roughly half a million Americans who are homeless on any given night have significant substance abuse problems. Two primary housing models are designed to serve this population: sober living houses (SLHs), which are alcohol- and drug-free living environments that emphasize a peer-supported recovery environment, and Housing First (HF), which adopts a “personal autonomy” approach that provides optional services for substance abuse and psychiatric disorders (and lacks the SLH community approach). The two also differ on definitions of recovery. SLHs define recovery as daily abstinence from drugs and alcohol, while HF defines it more broadly to include all efforts toward positive change, even if the participant is still using drugs and alcohol.

To explore and compare how location, design, and operations influence residential experience in SLHs and HF, this study draws from existing literature, considerations from architectural planning papers, and discussions in forums on housing models for homeless people.

The authors include key policy recommendations that focus on how service providers can be more responsive to residents’ needs and how the federal government could support housing options for homeless people with substance abuse problems. Key findings