The following is an editorial written by One Step Away, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless people by providing them with their own newspaper to produce and sell.
As budget talks lurched from totally unacceptable to wildly inadequate last month, many providers across the state faced a curious problem. We talk often about the need to invest in needed services — housing, health care, schools, etc. — but we try to make the argument on the moral obligation to care for people and that often seems to fall short. So let’s move on to making this about dollars and cents, and how this investment actually helps meet our financial obligations.
At One Step Away we’ve talked a lot about expanding Medicaid, because it is the right thing to do. Will it help people get access to health care? Yes. But more importantly, Pennsylvania is losing $10 million a day in federal funding by not taking the Medicaid expansion. Pennsylvania is also losing out on thousands of jobs that the expansion would bring, and the tax revenue you get because people pay taxes when they, you know, have jobs.
The good people at Project H.O.M.E. make a wildly compelling case for expanding the State Housing Trust Fund, for obvious reasons. But let’s, once again, carry this a step farther. You can make the moral argument that we should invest more in housing people. But here’s the thing — it’s easy to make the financial argument, too.
Every study in every state across the nation shows that it is far more expensive to leave people on the streets than to get them into housing. Last month a study by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness showed that Florida residents pay $31,065 per chronically homeless person every year they live on the streets. The study found that it costs taxpayers $10,051 per homeless person to provide a place to live and services such as job training and health care.
Now, we’re not mathematicians. But that’s less.
A study by the University of North Carolina Charlotte in March found that placing people experiencing homelessness in their own apartments saved $1.8 million in health care costs, with 447 fewer emergency room visits (a 78 percent reduction) and 372 fewer days in the hospital (a 79 percent reduction). They also showed a 78 percent drop in arrests.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless estimates that taxpayers spend $43,240 per homeless individual in Colorado each year on everything from emergency health care to legal issues. Housing people, on the other hand, costs just $16,813 per person.
Again, that’s less.
On and on like that it goes; no matter where you look, it is wildly better in strict financial terms to get people housing. People use fewer public services, they have fewer health issues, they require fewer public expenses, if they have housing.
Creative Housing Solutions, an Oklahoma-based consultant group, tracked public expenses ranging from adjudication and incarceration costs to health care services, medical treatment and emergency room visits. Chronic homelessness is not just awful, it’s expensive. Historically, a small percentage of people experiencing chronic homelessness take up a large percentage of resources and expenses, because most have disabilities ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses to physical maladies that make a near constant access to services an absolute necessity.
Last year researchers in Osceola County, Florida, studied incarceration costs for a relatively small chronically homeless population. They found that taxpayers spent more than $5 million in a 10-year period in incarceration expenses to repeatedly jail just 37 chronically homeless people. Regardless of your views on housing, from a fiscal responsibility standpoint that is insane.
Giving homeless people housing and supportive services stabilizes them and allows for recovery and strides toward self-sufficiency.
Homelessness is an absolute national crisis. It is a great shame for this nation, that in the richest country in the world there are people struggling to survive day-to-day on the streets.
But it’s fiscally irresponsible, too.