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Cost of Homelessness
|Homelessness can be surprisingly costly for taxpayers. Fortunately, socially-responsible, cost-effective solutions exist.|
For many city officials, community leaders, and even direct service providers, it often seems that placing homeless people in shelters is the most inexpensive way to meet the basic needs of people experiencing homelessness; some may even believe that shelters are an ideal solution.
Research, however, has shown something surprisingly different.
The cost of homelessness can be quite high. Hospitalization, medical treatment, incarceration, police intervention, and emergency shelter expenses can add up quickly, making homelessness surprisingly expensive for municipalities and taxpayers.
Hospitalization and Medical Treatment
People experiencing homelessness are more likely to access the most costly health care services.
Homelessness both causes and results from serious health care issues, including addiction, psychological disorders, HIV/AIDS, and a host of order ailments that require long-term, consistent care. Homelessness inhibits this care, as housing instability often detracts from regular medical attention, access to treatment, and recuperation. This inability to treat medical problems can aggravate these problems, making them both more dangerous and more costly.
As an example, physician and health care expert Michael Siegel found that the average cost to cure an alcohol-related illness is approximately $10,660. Another study found that the average cost to California hospitals of treating a substance abuser is about $8,360 for those in treatment, and $14,740 for those who are not.
Prisons and Jails
People who are homeless spend more time in jail or prison, which is tremendously costly to the state and locality. Often, time served is a result of laws specifically targeting the homeless population, including regulations against loitering, sleeping in cars, and begging.
Emergency shelter is a costly alternative to permanent housing. While it is sometimes necessary for short-term crises, too often it serves as long-term housing. The cost of an emergency shelter bed funded by HUD's Emergency Shelter Grants program is approximately $8,067 more than the average annual cost of a federal housing subsidy (Section 8 Housing Certificate). A recent HUD study found that the cost of providing emergency shelter to families is generally as much or more than the cost of placing them in transitional or permanent housing.
Studies have shown that – in practice, and not just in theory – providing people experiencing chronic homelessness with permanent supportive housing saves taxpayers money.
Permanent supportive housing refers to permanent housing coupled with supportive services.
While seemingly counterintuitive, these examples clearly demonstrate that a housing-based approach to homelessness is not only more cost-effective than a shelter-based approach, but more effective in the long term. By focusing our resources on ending homelessness, we can make real progress toward eradicating the social problem while helping the country's most vulnerable residents.