Here's Matthew Yglesias over at Vox on a fascinating new report out of Florida analyzing the costs of housing—and not housing—the homeless:
A new study is out providing support to one of my favorite ideas in public policy—that the best way to deal with the challenge of homelessness is to give homeless people homes to live in. To some it sounds utopian and it's natural to worry about the cost, but a great deal of evidence suggests that it would be cheaper to house the homeless than to let them languish on the streets and deal with the aftermath.
The latest is a Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on "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."
Guess how much the study found it would cost, per year, to give each person a place to live and a caseworker to keep an eye on them? Just $10,000. So it costs less than a third as much to just house people than it does to repeatedly arrest them for doing a bunch of normal human behavior that's illegal to do in public but totally not illegal to do inside your own home, like sleep and drink and pee? And to then also pay for the inevitable physical and mental health issues that arise or are aggravated when you live on the street and keep getting fucking arrested for sleeping or peeing or drinking? GEE WHIZ, WHO COULD'VE SEEN THAT COMING?!?
When it comes to the chronically homeless, you don't need to fix everything to improve their lives. You don't even really need new public money. What you need to do is target those resources at the core of the problem—a lack of housing—and deliver the housing, rather than spending twice as much on sporadic legal and medical interventions. And the striking thing is that despite the success of housing first initiatives, there are still lots of jurisdictions that haven't yet switched to this approach. If Central Florida and other lagging regions get on board, we could take a big bite out of the remaining homelessness problem and free up lots of resources for other public services.
There are some interesting graphs about the national decline in homelessness after federal policy started shifting toward a housing-first model. Go read the whole thing.