National Edition

Leaving homeless on streets costlier than giving them housing

Published: Thursday, June 5 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Homeless persons congregate outside the Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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A new study released by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness reveals that doing nothing about homelessness costs Florida residents more than if the state were to house them.

"Each chronically homeless person in Central Florida costs the community roughly $31,000 a year," reported the Orlando Sentinel.

"The price tag covers the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues," the Sentinel's Kate Santich wrote.

Providing permanent housing and case managers to homeless persons would cost about $10,000 per person per year. Essentially, if Florida chose to support the homeless with housing, it could save $350 million in 10 years, PolicyMic reported.

"Our community will spend nearly half a billion dollars [on the chronically homeless], and at the end of the decade, these people will still be homeless. It doesn't make moral sense, and now we know it doesn't make financial sense," said Andrae Bailey, CEO of the Florida commission, to the Sentinel.

"Even if you don't think society has a moral obligation to care for the least among us, (the study) underscores that we have a financial obligation to do so," Think Progress reported.

In Colorado, a similar story played out when the state decided to turn a vacated prison into a homeless shelter last fall. The shelter had a $3.9 million pricetag to house 200 people, which made some taxpayers squirm. But that only cost taxpayers $16,813 per person, less than half the $43,240 it would cost to leave them on the streets, according to another article on Think Progress.

"A 2012 estimate found there are nearly 17,000 homeless persons in the Centennial State. As (Gov. John Hickenlooper) notes, though, this money doesn't even include 'any effort to recover them' and help them transition off the streets."

Utah (which many have said is an unlikely state to do so) has been "mitigating" the cost of homelessness by simply giving homes to the homeless, "no strings attached," as PolicyMic put it, since 2005. In 2013, reports surfaced that Utah had "reduced long-term homelessness by 74% and (is) on track to eradicate it completely by 2015," PolicyMic reported.

amcdonald@deseretnews

@amymcdonald89

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