People who oppose housing programs and services for homeless people often base their arguments on the cost of those programs.
“How are we going to pay for all this?” they wonder, as if an extra fraction of a dollar on your tax bill is worse than allowing your neighbors to sleep on the streets.
Soon they won’t be able to hide behind the tired “it’s too expensive” excuse. Why? Because the facts show that housing homeless people actually saves cities money.
Yup, it’s true. And it makes sense if you think about the full picture.
Living without a home is hard. It’s hard on your body, your mind, and your community. And when it takes its toll, taxpayers end up subsidizing care anyway. So, why wait until the damage is done? It’s cheaper both in monetary cost and human cost to stop the cycle as soon as it begins.
Criminalizing Homelessness is Expensive
Did you think the bleeding heart handouts were driving costs up? Thanks for playing, but no.
Criminalizing homelessness is far from free.
For one, you have to actually pay police officers’ salaries as they arrest, transport, move along, and otherwise interact with homeless people who are committing “illegal” actions.
Then, there’s the cost of jail stays for overwhelmingly nonviolent “crimes” like sleeping in parks, trespassing, or public intoxication. Along with these charges come the additional costs of legal advisement. Do you see how it’s all adding up?
In one study of central Florida cities, the costs were found to be three times higher than simply providing housing and support. Yeah. The total cost of the current system was estimated at $31,000 per homeless person in the area. To provide a home and caseworker for each person would only cost $10,000.
Medical Costs for Homeless Residents Are Higher
Emergency medical care is another big expense for homeless people, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Life on the streets is difficult, and stressful. Stress alone can lead to a number of different health conditions. That’s before you even consider the effects of inclement weather, violence against homeless people, and poor sanitary conditions that can encourage disease.
Basically, if you wanted to design a system to make people sick and shave years from their lives, homelessness would be perfect.
As this is the case, it’s understandable why medical costs incurred by homeless people, and paid in part by public funds, are so high.
People who live in their own homes with access to basic necessities like heat, running water, and all the amenities of the typical bathroom stay healthier and live longer with less expense to the average taxpayer.
Healthcare costs are the biggest piece of the puzzle when it comes to reducing costs. That’s why LA’s Housing for Health pilot focuses on reducing healthcare costs by providing housing for those who need it.
And It Is Working
Housing for Health provides stable housing as part of an overall health plan to “high-utilizers”.
High-utilizers are individuals who are brought to hospitals for emergency services, then discharged back onto the streets to recover. Of course, one cannot fully recover from an illness or injury while living on the street. Most return for care after a short period of time, continuing the cycle.
The solution to decrease this unnecessary tax on available resources is providing stable housing and allowing a person to improve their overall health.
Housing for Health has achieved astounding results since it began in 2013. An independent analysis found that for every $1 invested in the Housing for Health program, the county saved $1.20 in reduced health care and services costs.
Los Angeles County was able to provide supportive housing for its most vulnerable homeless residents, continue to provide healthcare, and save money. That’s a definite win-win, and something we should be expanding into other parts of the country.
Even in Canada, where healthcare costs are a lot lower on average, communities that tried this method broke even in terms of cost and were able to provide supportive housing for their most vulnerable neighbors – at no additional cost to the public!
Housing Homeless People Is the Simple Solution
Homelessness is expensive.
It costs us money for police intervention, emergency health care, and other services. It also costs its victims health, happiness and years of their lives.
We can minimize all those costs by following the simple, obvious solution: providing housing for those who don’t have it.
It’s the right thing to do.
It would be the right thing to do even if it were more expensive. But with proof that providing housing actually saves money with better results, we can finally put that old, “it’s too expensive” excuse to bed.
Now that we’ve seen these results, there are no good excuses left.
Some people will still hide behind ignorance, prejudice, and plain stubbornness. We need to expose those excuses for what they are. It’s time to encourage our friends, neighbors, and representatives to do the right thing … if not for the right reasons, then at least because it’s cheaper.