Friday, August 15, 2008

The business case for ending homelessness

For a moment, forget the poorest of the poor.

Well, don't forget these folks, just shift your focus of concern for a moment from the human side of the challenge to the financial realities, to the costs of homelessness to any community.

As we continue working on providing additional housing units for the homeless, we realize just how essential it is to make the business case for eliminating homelessness from our community.

Homeless people cost us all a lot. And, many of these costs are unnecessary. The fact is, providing people decent, permanent housing is much more cost effective than allowing homeless folks to remain without housing.

Recently, we conducted a survey among residents who live in housing we provide. All who responded were homeless when they came to us. All are disabled.

Only 16% of those involved in our housing program took part in the survey. And while we will continue to gather data, what we collected in this initial survey provides a very clear "trend line" for our consideration.

We asked very simple questions:

1) In the year before you came into the Destination Home program how many times did you visit a hospital emergency room for any kind of treatment?

2) In the year before you came to the program, how many times were you admitted to the hospital?

3) How long had you lived in your Destination Home apartment?

4) Since you moved into the Destination Home program, how many times have you visited a hospital emergency room for any kind of treatment?

5) Since you moved into the Destination Home program, how many times have you been admitted to a hospital for any kind of treatment?

The results are extremely interesting.

Those who participated in the survey have been in the program for an average of 9 months. Their average age is 57.

In the year prior to coming our way, these folks report 17 ER visits at local hospitals. Since coming to our program, they report 1 such visit.

Likewise, in the year prior to coming to Destination Home, those surveyed reported 4 hospitalizations. Since coming to us, survey participants reported 1 hospitalization.

Clearly, permanent housing makes a big difference for the formerly homeless. But, it also makes a difference for the rest of us.

Ignoring the poor is not only heartless and immoral, it makes no sense whatsoever financially. Good public stewards will invest in wiping homelessness out.



Chris said...

Larry, what kind of disability are you talking about? Drug or alcohol dependency or actual physical conditions? I thought most chronic homeless people had some kind of dependency.

If they have a drug or alcohol problem, are they free to continue the dependency while getting free or low cost rent on an apartment paid by the taxpayer? Most people work a good part of their lives to pay for a house.

Gerald Britt said...


Most Destination Home residents have disabilities other than addiction. The few who do have addiction are connected to AA (Alcohol Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and have case managemers who work with them.

The important thing is that they are treated as citizens who have the same 'right to privacy' as any other citizen and resident of those complexes. They are no more 'subsidized' than any other resident of a tax credit property, or the owner of a tax credit property who has a problem with alcohol dependency or who depend upon first time homebuyer government sponsored programs, etc.

It amazes me that people have an antipathy towards people because, for whatever reason, they have been hurt by life circumstances.

True, most people work a good portion of their lives to pay for a house. These too are people who have worked in their lives and who have either made mistakes, gotten caught doing some of the same things others of us have gotten away with, or who have in some been injured by (or yes even injured) someone. Are these reasons not to give them another chance?

The amazing thing is the property owners tell us that the Destination Home residents are far less problematic than their other tenants. So, I have a problem understanding why the formerly homeless need to have the caveat of 'spotless' behavior beyond that required by anyone else.

Lorlee said...

I think it is important to continually point out the money costs and savings.

I once served on a task force on teen pregnancy. I cared because of the impact on people's lives -- those of a more conservative persuasion came around when they figured out how much money it was costing.

It is unfortunate that one can't sell doing things for the right humane reasons, but I have always believed we have undersold the economic arguments. Money has a very loud voice and I don't believe we should shy away from it.

Larry James said...

Chris, my point here is simple economics. It costs YOU and me far too much to leave people on the streets. It is much more cost effective, as in saving YOUR dollars--something I thought you would approve of!--to provide decent housing than to allow hundreds of folks to be on the streets of our cities. The data is overwhelming when you add in hospital, EMS, fire and police, jail costs and then all of the social services provided by "do-gooders" like me. That was the point of my post.