What Does It Cost to Stop Homelessness? Maybe As Little As $5,000

What Does it Cost to Stop Homelessness

Photo by Igal Ness on Unsplash

According to Reports from Real People, That’s All It Would Take to Make the Difference

According to the new California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness, most unhoused people believe that a one-time payment of 5 to 10 thousand dollars could have prevented them from becoming homeless. 

These are the findings of the large-scale study after surveying over 3,000 unhoused Californians and conducting in-depth interviews with more than 300.

A whopping 82% of participants believed that such a payment would have kept them housed for a sustained period, while 70% thought that a monthly rent subsidy of just 3 to 5 hundred dollars would have had the same effect.

These are real people looking back on their own life experiences and telling us what would have made the difference for them in their specific situations. That’s valuable information we should be learning from and acting on.

Homelessness Prevention Resources Are Out There

Something that a lot of people don’t realize as they’re living through the chaos and uncertainty of losing housing is that there are a number of resources aimed at preventing people who are in tenuous housing situations from losing that housing. Many people think or are told that there’s not much or any help available to you until you’re already street homeless. But that’s not always the case.

In fact, the CASPEH survey found that the vast majority of respondents who entered homelessness from housing situations (as opposed to from institutional settings like prison) never sought these services. Many people were simply unaware of their existence.

The 36% of respondents who had reached out for help from others to try and prevent their homelessness were much more likely to seek help from friends and family members rather than non-profit organizations or government agencies.

While these systems are far from perfect and often let people fall through the cracks, it’s worth a try reaching out to local homelessness prevention organizations if you find yourself in crisis and facing homelessness.

Homelessness Prevention Could Be Much More Effective

Prevention services are one of the more overlooked areas of the homeless services arena. In the middle ground between high-level political and social changes that make homelessness a thing of the past and on-the-ground crisis services for already homeless people where every minute counts, they could cast a much wider net of protection than they currently do. 

If all it takes to prevent one family from experiencing homelessness and starting on that cycle that gets harder and harder to escape is a one-time payment of 5 to 10 thousand dollars, that seems like a bargain. And beyond being merely cost-effective, it could also be effective at keeping people in their homes and preventing the traumas of homelessness from ever touching their lives. That’s what we want.

Let’s imagine one situation with two wildly different outcomes.

In both scenarios, our protagonist- let’s call him Joe- is being kicked out of his current housing and needs to find an alternate arrangement fast. 

In the first scenario, Joe panics for a moment but manages to scrape together enough money for a security deposit on a new apartment by borrowing from various friends and family members. He has a stressful few weeks scrambling to find a place to live and getting his things packed up, but he manages to make the transition into a new apartment fairly smoothly, and things go back to normal for him before long. He’ll barely remember this incident in a few years.

In the second scenario, however, Joe cannot scrape together that security deposit. Instead of moving into a new apartment, he stays with various friends and family members for a while until, one by one, they tell him to move on. He stays in motels for a while, but eventually, he finds himself waiting in line for a bed at a nearby homeless shelter.

Now that Joe is homeless, he’s subjected to all the stigma, violence, adverse health effects, criminalization, stress, and trauma that come along with that in our society. Everything is harder now. It could take him months or years to secure stable housing again, and even once he’s safely housed, he will never forget this period in his life.

Why should we let something as simple and easily remedied as a missing security deposit snowball into a series of events that permanently alter a person’s life? In situations like Joe’s and many people interviewed for the CASPEH report, all it would have taken to avoid homelessness entirely was a small infusion of cash at the right time. Homelessness prevention services could provide that.

GoFundMe Once Again Steps in to Fill the Gaps in a Broken System

For many people facing a personal housing crisis, it may not occur to them to reach out to local or national homelessness prevention organizations. But you can find their pleas for help all over any crowdfunding website.

GoFundMe is littered with urgent missives explaining how a family is facing eviction and needs 3, 5, or 10 thousand dollars in order to pay back rent or secure a new apartment. Too many even explain how they tried to reach out for help from various organizations but were told that nothing could be done for them until they were already homeless- a thoroughly infuriating thing to hear.

We tend to talk and think about homelessness as a hugely expensive problem that will require tons and tons of funding poured into it even to make a dent. Often, this narrative is deliberately crafted to make the problem seem insurmountable or somehow not worth the cost of solving. But for many families, all it takes to make the difference is a little bit of money given at the right time- before it’s too late.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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