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The Cost of Homelessness
|The Ten Year Plan: The Cost of Homelessness|
For mayors, city councils, and even homeless providers it often seems that placing homeless people in shelters, while not the most desirable course, is at least the most inexpensive way of meeting basic needs. This is deceptive. The cost of homelessness can be quite high, particularly for those with chronic illnesses. Because they have no regular place to stay, people who are homeless use a variety of public systems in an inefficient and costly way. Preventing a homeless episode or ensuring a speedy transition into stable permanent housing can result in a significant cost savings.
Following are some of the ways in which homelessness can be costly.
Hospitalization and Medical Treatment
People who are homeless are more likely to access costly health care services.
Homelessness both causes and results from serious health care issues, including addictive disorders.3 Treating homeless people for drug and alcohol related illnesses in less than optimal conditions is expensive. Substance abuse increases the risk of incarceration and HIV exposure, and it is itself a substantial cost to our medical system.
Prisons and Jails
People who are homeless spend more time in jail or prison—sometimes for crimes such as loitering—which is tremendously costly.
Emergency shelter is a costly alternative to permanent housing. While it is sometimes necessary for short-term crises, it too often serves as long-term housing. The cost of an emergency shelter bed funded by HUD's Emergency Shelter Grants program is approximately$8,0677 more than the average annual cost of a federal housing subsidy (Section 8 Housing Certificate).
Perhaps the most difficult cost to quantify is the loss of future productivity. Decreased health and more time spent in jails or prisons, means that homeless people have more obstacles to contributing to society through their work and creativity. Homeless children also face barriers to education.
Dr. Yvonne Rafferty, of Pace University, wrote an article which compiled earlier research on the education of homeless children, including the following findings:
Because many homeless children have such poor education experiences, their future productivity and career prospects may suffer. This makes the effects of homelessness much longer lasting than just the time spent in shelters.
1Salit S.A., Kuhn E.M., Hartz A.J., Vu J.M., Mosso A.L. Hospitalization costs associated with homelessness in New York City. New England Journal of Medicine 1998; 338: 1734-1740.
2Martell J.V., Seitz R.S., Harada J.K., Kobayashi J., Sasaki V.K., Wong C. Hospitalization in an urban homeless population: the Honolulu Urban Homeless Project. Annals of Internal Medicine 1992; 116:299-303.
3Rosenheck, R., Bassuk, E., Salomon, A., Special Populations of Homeless Americans, Practical Lessons: The 1998 National Symposium on Homelessness Research, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, US Department of Health and Human Services, August, 1999.
4From the website of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, May 8, 2000.
5Diamond, Pamela and Steven B. Schneed, Lives in the Shadows: Some of the Costs and Consequences of a "Non-System" of Care. Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, University of Texas, Austin, TX, 1991.
6Slevin, Peter, Life After Prison: Lack of Services Has High Price. The Washington Post, April 24, 2000.
7Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Evaluation of the Emergency Shelter Grants Program, Volume 1: Findings September 1994. p 91.
8Rafferty, Yvonne The Legal Rights and Educational Problems of Homeless Children and Youth pp 42-45. As reported on the website of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, May 8, 2000.