BY: CONNOR BRIAN
It’s a fact that long-term investment will always supersede erratic donation based on the concept that infrastructure-based development is principal in achieving economic growth. According to recent studies, lending a hand to those in need doesn’t just make moral sense—it actually makes financial sense.
Matthew Yglesias of Vox recently reported that The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness released a study in May that specified that the region spends $31,065 a year per homeless person.
Living on the streets isn’t cheap; the study indicated that this hefty 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.”
Scott Nowlin is 60 and was homeless for 20 years before he was given a home as part of Utah’s Housing First program.
In these same regions, researchers found that taxpayers spent over $5 million dollars in the past decade to repeatedly incarcerate just 37 chronic homeless people.
Interestingly enough, in Osceola, Orange, and Seminole counties in Florida, it only costs about $10,000 a year to house each homeless person, while also hiring a caseworker to supervise his or her needs.
The average skeptic might raise the argument that circumstances vary from place to place, yet there are similar studies showing the financial savings in southeastern Colorado where in 2014 the vacant Fort Lyon Correctional Facility was turned into a homeless shelter for $3.9 million.
Though some might scoff at such a number, The Colorado Coalition For The Homeless estimates that taxpayers spend $43,240 per homeless person in Colorado each year. In 2012 there was an estimated 17,000 homeless in the state alone.
Housing the homeless, by contrast, will only cost $16,813 per person- that is less than half of what we spend for them to live on the streets.
Throwing your subway change into an empty coffee cup when you are feeling generous is simply sidestepping the issue. By taking a “housing first” approach the rate of homelessness in America dropped 17% from 2005 to 2012. That is incredible progress and it can be amplified if others begin to target their resources to the core of the problem.
Patrick Bartholomew lost his job, home, and kids to extreme drug use. After finding housing he is now clean and has full custody. “I can talk about my story now,” he says. “For a long time I couldn’t.”
We don’t need to spend more money; in fact we will be saving an incredible amount. When Moore Place opened in Charlotte in 2012, it had 85 units and required each resident to contribute 30% of their income toward rent. In the first year alone studies proved that it saved taxpayers $1.8 million.
Now that we understand the immense legal and medical costs that homelessness implies, it would be fiscally irresponsible of us not to implement the “housing first” strategy. As my grandfather always said, “fix something right the first time, and you won’t be yanking out the same nail for the rest of your life.”
The root of the problem is a lack of affordable housing. It is a myth that if you find a job it will keep you out of homelessness. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a full-time minimum wage worker would have to work from 70 to 174 hours a week to pay for an “affordable” two bedroom apartment. Seeing as the government defines “affordable” as 30% of a persons income, many people – especially those with families, can’t keep up.
We need to create more affordable housing with income-geared-rent. It is economically beneficial to supply this. Doing anything less would be like putting a fresh coat of paint on a house with a broken foundation.
By implementing a housing first strategy the money we could save would free an extremely large amount of resources that could be used for public services like green space or public education. By helping someone else you are helping yourself—and that is an Economic Rationalists definition of Karma.