America may not have refugees fleeing war but we do have chronically homeless individuals living without regular shelter for averages of 10 to 18 years. The community costs may be indirect but emergency room visit care and police bookings, incarcerations, and mental health services within a prison setting add up to large sums of money. Housing First programs in several areas have successfully established chronically homeless individuals in apartments for less money than the average cost of emergency services.
A county in Florida followed the estimated costs accrued by 37 homeless people over a ten year time span. The 37 people were arrested 1,250 times over the ten years resulting in 61,9896 total days of incarceration. The costs included $130,000 for police bookings, $4,951,680 for jail costs and $1,336,225 for mental health care in jail for a total of $6,417,905 dollars – for 37 people.
A Welfare recipient might receive $3000 per year which would be $1,110,000 for 37 people for ten years. Subsidized housing and food benefits add additional costs.
Research during the first nine years of a ten year plan to end homelessness in Utah suggests that costs accrued by treating homeless individuals average $20,000 per year there while the Housing First program only costs $10,000 to $12,000 per person.
Homeless shelters in New York City cost an average of $3,444 dollars per month to provide temporary shelter for a single mother and her children according to the letter that one mother who has to stay in a shelter receives from the Welfare program each month. She states that she would find an apartment for herself and her children if she had $900 per month to spend.
Housing First programs take a different approach to helping the homeless – providing homes before expecting recipients to be drug free and have stable mental health symptoms. The more common approach has been to provide services within the temporary shelters until individuals prove they have reached a stable level of self care. The problem with that method is that for many chronically homeless, a stable level of self care can not be reached while in an unstable, stressful homeless situation. And for some people expecting a complete remission from their mental health symptoms may be impossible.
Personal Opinion: we don’t expect other chronically ill people to just stop acting sick. Illness is not an act and taking pills can’t always provide an end to all symptoms let alone provide a cure.
Read more: “Room for Improvement: The Shockingly Simple, Surprisingly Cost-Effective Way to End Homelessness,” by Scott Carrier, Feb. 17, 2015, March/April 2015 issue, [Mother Jones.com]