When Homelessness Overburdens Hospitals, Taxpayers End Up with the Bill

the link between homelessness and healthcare costs

Amidst a 17% tax hike in Ridley Park, PA, due to hospital debts, the unseen cost of homelessness emerges: taxpayers footing bills for healthcare overburdened by homelessness. NLIHC’s Sarah Saadian underscores the urgency to invest in housing solutions, emphasizing the link between homelessness and healthcare costs, urging communities to advocate for effective measures to solve the crisis.

“We’re paying for the housing crisis, whether we like it or not. We’re paying for it on the front end or the back end. Either we’re investing resources to address the housing crisis and prevent homelessness, or we’re paying for homelessness through higher healthcare costs, policing costs, and increasing costs to our other social systems.”

NLIHC’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy Sarah Saadian , in an exclusive discussion with Invisible People

Amid a nationwide affordability crisis, residents of the small town of Ridley Park, PA, were hit with some unexpectedly bad news. A 17% tax hike was being levied on the residents of this suburban Delaware County town at a time when many were already strapped for cash. 

And the reason for this tax hike? Was it money to fund educational resources for the youth? Nope. How about a new park, smoother roads, or a sprawling bike trail that draws people to the town? The answer, of course, is none of the above.

Instead, this massive tax hike is what happens when hospitals don’t pay their bills. Many people are unaware of this consequence, but if a hospital in a neighborhood becomes overburdened and underfunded, the local taxpayers are often expected to pick up the tab. 

In this particular instance, Taylor Hospital, the local health facilitator, was in arrears for $363,000+. Ridley Park residents, one-third of whom are living on fixed incomes, were rightly befuddled to learn that the bill had become their responsibility, as opposed to the hospital’s.

“Very frustrating for everybody,” said resident Mike Dougherty, expressing disbelief in a brief interview with Fox 29.

We Pay For Not Fixing Homelessness in a Wide Variety of Ways, Including Higher Taxes and Higher Healthcare Premiums

The United States government has been deceiving the public about homelessness for decades. Professor Sarah Rankin once compared their tactics to magicians who, by way of smoke in mirrors, make it look like things have disappeared when they have simply shifted out of view. Similarly, by conducting homeless encampment sweeps, enforcing anti-homeless legislation, and forcing poor people into obscurity through brute force or the threat thereof, city leaders have managed to quietly shuffle homelessness from one street corner to the next without fixing any of the underlying issues.

Of course, this inaction is wildly popular among mega corporations and politicians who spew lies from pulpits. However, it leaks out into communities, wreaking havoc in nearly undetectable ways, like overburdening emergency rooms and sending medical facilities spiraling into unfathomable debts, all of which essentially become the taxpayers’ problem.

When reporting on a CDC study, the National Low Income Housing Coalition projected that for every dollar invested into Housing First programs, $1.44 is saved through other community programs. One of those programs is healthcare.

The Link Between Housing and Healthcare

We’re often told housing is healthcare, but what does that really mean? In a nutshell, the expression alludes to the fact that not having housing creates and exacerbates illness to the point where unhoused individuals notoriously die three decades sooner than their housed counterparts on average.

The lack of access to housing leads to a lack of access to health insurance, doctor’s offices, prescription medications, etc. By the time a homeless person is diagnosed with a serious illness, it is often in its final stages. This means members of the unhoused community are statistically more likely to visit emergency rooms repeatedly. This risk is increased for unsheltered individuals forced to relocate due to sweeps.

Likewise, solving homelessness could alleviate the burden placed on the people enduring homelessness and the communities picking up the tab. In the words of NLIHC VP Sarah Saadian, “This is the invisible cost of inaction. Doing nothing actually costs us more than if we were to just invest in affordable housing and other solutions.”

If Inaction Overburdens Your Local Hospitals, You Could Wind Up with a Tax Hike, Too

Just because you cannot see a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t there. As residents in Ridley Park, PA, are learning, large, unexpected tax increases adversely affect residents on an individual level and also on a communal level.

Several local Delco residents have complained that they will no longer have the extra money to contribute to local businesses, eat at nearby restaurants, and funnel back into their children’s educational systems. This equates to communal suffering and the eventual economic erosion of entire neighborhoods.

Hiding homelessness has a hidden price. How long do you wish to keep paying it?

Talk to Your Representatives About Solving Homelessness and Saving Communities and Tax Dollars

You might not even notice, but the fact that homelessness exists is ruining your community. You are losing funding in other social sectors to support a system that increasingly works against everyday Americans. Speak with your representatives about taking effective measures to solve the homeless crisis today – not measures to hide the crisismove it down the street, or stuff it temporarily behind the bars of for-profit prisons, as has been customary in the past, but genuinely solve it. Lives and entire communities await your call.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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