Some US Cities Are Tackling Homelessness by Giving People Homes, and the Results Are Promising
Social Issues| | By Jason Owen
What do New Orleans, Santa Clara County, and Utah all have in common? Recent measures by these municipalities have looked to address the homelessness population by taking an approach that seems pretty logical — giving the homeless homes.
To detractors of the idea, the argument against it is simple: Why spend taxpayer money on homes for people who don’t contribute to society? The answer: It turns out that homeless people are a considerable drain on government funds when accounting for emergency services costs and frequent brushes with the law. In a study conducted by Santa Clara County, nonprofit public policy research group Economic Roundtable, and homeless advocacy group Destination: Home, they found that the public costs per homeless person was estimated at $62,500. When the researchers looked at a sample set of 400 people who received homes from Destination: Home’s program, they found the public costs per homeless person dropped to $20,000 annually.
Another wrinkle in the argument that homeless people don’t contribute to society: About 45 percent of homeless people have some sort of employment, but receive low pay that doesn’t help them climb out of poverty.
“When someone is housed, [self-medication of health problems is] much less likely to happen and people are getting preventive care,” head researcher and president of Economic Roundtable, Daniel Flaming, told Mother Jones. “Having stability and managing problems more effectively reduces costs a great deal. At the end of the day, the solution that really makes sense is to prevent homelessness. It creates a lot of wreckage for individuals and for communities. For every community to get better at preventing people from falling through the cracks and to reduce the flow of people into homelessness — that is ultimately the best solution.”
Santa Clara has similar examples from across the country to show that giving homeless people homes can have long-term economic benefits.
New Orleans launched an initiative with Unity of Greater New Orleans to provide subsidized housing for the homeless. The number of chronically homeless in city dropped from 4,579 in 2009 to 677 in 2014. Another initiative in the city was implemented as part of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Mayor’s Challenge” to provide mixed-housing complexes for the city’s homeless vets in hopes of completely eliminating veteran homelessness.
Nationally, 23 percent of all homeless individuals are veterans.
“We are the only community in America where everybody experienced homelessness together nine years ago,” said executive director of Unity of Greater New Orleans Martha Kegel, speaking of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “It’s a shared experience we all understand in a way we didn’t understand before — how important it is for every human being to have a home, and we have a sense of urgency about that.”
The state of Utah implemented a similar initiative when they announced an ambitious goal to end homelessness in the state. Research had shown the average cost of a person living on the street was around $20,000. But affordable housing would cost just $7,800 per year, saving the state more than $10,000 annually per person. By 2015, the chronic homeless population had dropped 91 percent.
For many, the prospect of having a home to go to at the end of the day is the positive mindset they need to continue to better their life and give up any vices that led to chronic homelessness in the first place.
“Going from homelessness into a home changes a person’s psychological identity from outcast to member of the community,” said New York University psychologist Sam Tsemberis in an interview with Mother Jones.
Another solution may not even involve building new homes for the homeless population, but to sort through the regulations and red tape to use some of the millions and millions of vacant homes across the country to find suitable places for these homeless individuals to live.
What do you think? Is giving homeless people homes the best way to tackle the problem and help people get off the streets? Or are better solutions out there? SHARE your thoughts in the comments.