Faculty News

Dr. Deborah Padgett Advises Brazil on Housing First Homelessness Policy

Deborah Padgett headshot
A white banner with black blue and red letters reads "‘Nada de nós sem nós’ População em situação de rua de Torres. A run nāo é moradia. Presente!” with the logo of the National Movement for the Defense of the Homeless Population (MNLDPSR). There are many colorful flags on the stage above the banner.
A banner from the National Movement for the Defense of the Homeless Population placed at the base of the summit stage says "Nothing about us without us."

Brazil’s recorded homeless population soared 140% in the decade leading up to 2022. Professor Deborah Padgett, whose studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health helped establish the evidence base for the Housing First approach to ending homelessness, was recently a guest of Brazil’s Ministry of Human Rights at a summit launching the government’s multi-year plan to phase in Housing First nationally.

Dr. Padgett noted that Brazil’s recently elected President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has made Housing First one of his leading domestic priorities “as a rights-based and evidence-supported approach that fits well with his administration’s commitment to help Brazil’s homeless citizens.” 

Having its beginnings in New York City in 1992, Housing First is based upon a ‘right to housing’ ethos and is known internationally as the optimal way to end homelessness. The approach rejects prerequisites and instead moves homeless people directly into housing combined with necessary support services for those with serious mental illness or other disability. Dr. Padgett and co-authors Drs. Benjamin Henwood and Sam Tsemberis chronicled the evolution of the approach and the extensive research that supports it in the book Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives (2016, Oxford University Press). 

Dr. Padgett and three students stand in a row in front of Brasilia’s cathedral, which has sixteen white boomerang-shaped columns that rise from the ground to give it a crown-like exterior, and a bronze cross at the top.
In their free time, Dr. Padgett and student assistants visited the famed Cathedral of Brasília.

At the summit meeting, held November 27-30, 2023 in Brasilia, Dr. Padgett presented her qualitative research on Housing First as a means of understanding the lived experience of people attaining housing after months or years of homelessness. Housing First founder Dr. Tsemberis addressed its human rights foundations and shared positive quantitative findings from multiple randomized controlled trials conducted internationally.

Over three days of meetings bringing together ministry officials, leaders of diverse peoples’ movements and homeless advocates, attendees agreed that addressing Brazil’s growing homelessness crisis must begin with Housing First. Pilot projects in five cities are expected to be launched in 2024. “Brazil has a long history of populist movements”, said Dr. Padgett, “and it is especially exciting to see Housing First recognized as evidence-informed while also affirming ‘housing as a human right.’”