It Costs $21,000 More to Ignore the Homeless Than It Does to Give Them a Home

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This post originally appeared at ThinkProgress.

A homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Miami, Florida. (AP photo/ Alan Diaz.)

A homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Miami, Florida. (AP photo/ Alan Diaz.)

Even if you don’t think society has a moral obligation to care for the least among us, a new study underscores that we have a financial obligation to do so.

Late last week, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness released a new study showing that, when accounting for a variety of public expenses, Florida residents pay $31,065 per chronically homeless person every year they live on the streets.

The study, conducted by Creative Housing Solutions, an Oklahoma-based consultant group, tracked public expenses accrued by 107 chronically homeless individuals in central Florida. These ranged from criminalization and incarceration costs to medical treatment and emergency room intakes that the patient was unable to afford.

Andrae Bailey, CEO of the commission that released the study, noted to the Orlando Sentinel that most chronically homeless people have a physical or mental disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. “These are not people who are just going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job,” he said. “They’re never going to get off the streets on their own.”

The most recent count found 1,577 chronically homeless individuals living in three central Florida counties — Osceola, Seminole and Orange, which includes Orlando. As a result, the region is paying nearly $50 million annually to let homeless people languish on the streets.

There is a far cheaper option though: giving homeless people housing and supportive services. The study found that it would cost taxpayers just $10,051 per homeless person to give them a permanent place to live and services like job training and health care. That figure is 68 percent less than the public currently spends by allowing homeless people to remain on the streets. If central Florida took the permanent supportive housing approach, it could save $350 million over the next decade.

This is just the latest study showing how fiscally irresponsible it is for society to allow homelessness to continue. A study in Charlotte earlier this year found a new apartment complex oriented towards homeless people saved taxpayers $1.8 million in the first year alone. Similarly, the Centennial State will save millions by giving homeless people in southeast Colorado a place to live. And in Osceola County, Florida, researchers earlier this year found that taxpayers had spent $5,081,680 over the past decade in incarceration expenses to repeatedly jail just 37 chronically homeless people.

Scott Keyes is a senior reporter for at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Follow him on Twitter at @smkeyes.
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  • Anonymous

    I think there is just something petty in a lot of people that doesn’t like to see someone else get something “unearned” but that attitude never takes into account the fact that some people will never be able to take care of themselves. It’s better for society to take the attitude “there but for the grace of God I” and help them than to punish them for their limitations. It’s especially depressing to read this right next to the articles about how it will cost $1.9 bn to tear down blighted housing in Detroit. A sane society would spend less to fix it up and give it to the homeless.

  • FrankenPC .

    I wonder how many people have simply been displaced by industrialization. “The cost of doing business”

  • Greg Zeglen

    I agree this is a reasonable solution…that said, the problem will not be solved entirely in this manner s most need mental health care which will be the driver of the cost…far beyond what the research suggests..let’s see…who turned these people in need of mental health care out into the streets from the safe places they were being cared for and off the budget of the federal government…oh yeah, those ever caring and loving democrats…

  • JJ042804

    But the Homeless would be “benefiting” from a Home and Job assistance and that is what Republicans can’t stand!

  • marty

    Defies logic doesn’t it now.

  • marty

    With ACA they now get that treatment, once the staggering waits for treatment level off. Virginia now has a massive back log of folks needing mental health treatment. I always get the notion that some people scorn the fact that some of the homeless are mentally ill. The fact they were not or have not gotten treatment is another aspect of suffocating poverty. Mike Wallace courageously shared his experience with severe depression. He was able to get the best in treatment which is good. Indigent mentally ill folks simply cannot obtain that. Too many indigent homeless and mentally ill are charged with crimes and imprisoned. The numbers released by the CDC and the coalition for the homeless are heart breaking. @Greg, were you alive when Reagan (R) essentially threw the mentally ill onto the streets?????? I lived in DC at the time. Droves of mentally ill were discharged from St. Elizabeth’s after Reagan drastically cut or eliminated funding. Please do some research before you comment.

  • marty

    Acceptable losses? Pity folks view it that way, but view that way they do.

  • Franklin Bacon

    Services have to be budgeted to support them, even if they were given a house in Detroit. They are frequently unable to care for the house or even do housework. Home healthcare is not cheap. This is not even allowing for home maintenance. For Detroit, it is cheaper to raze buildings than to renovate them.

  • Beta Traxx

    Yea that’s exactly what we stand for, also Demolishing these homes with them in it if possible *rolls eyes*

    If you want to look into crazy spending look into your own Commander in Chief. His military, healthcare, and energy policies has spent us to oblivion.

    Obviously if this is a viable alternative it would worth looking into – hence the Think Thank exists. The Democrats don’t have a Monopoly in Charity (infact charity statistics show otherwise, you should look into it). Only mismanagment of power and resources is what that they do have a Monopoly in.

  • Greg Zeglen

    You imply that Reagan closed down the state mental hospitals as though he was callous and didn’t care. Before he did this, there 37,000 patints in 11 stae hospitals. The ACLU was suing on behalf of patients being involuntarily committed. the Lanterman-Petris-Short act replaced the large state hospitals with county operated mental health care systems and provided a legal basis for institutionalizing patients. Thanks to the ACLU pressure, involuntary treatment caused the mental heath population to rapidly decline. There are still 5 state hospitals today. Please stop perpetuating this liberal myth.

  • Greg Zeglen

    …and if you want to do research here is a jumping of point ready made…read it and the accompanying materials…you will get a better understanding of conditions in the 1970′s and 1980′s in the USA…the democrats war – Vietnam – was largely responsible for the failing economy in the US and the Carter Administration was fairly the jumping off point for deinstitutionalization…..please do some research before you ask others to do so…apparently you believe living through an era or two is research enough – by the way (except in the case of the current president) the Congress passes laws and the president signs them…the policy is supposed to be advocated for and set by the joint branches of government – not as it is done now – speaking of research – can you tell us which party was in control of the congress when Reagan was president without looking it up…just a thought..

  • Dano2

    It costs red states more to make the poor uncomfortable too, but they do it anyway. Conservative my left hiney.



  • Anonymous

    yes, it’s very petty – extrapolated to another situation, imagine if we refused hospital care to everyone who we deemed responsible for an automobile accident. The ambulance arrive on the scene, the cop says, “this guy was at fault” so the ambulance returns to the hospital empty. Since we have no problem assisting people in car accidents, even though we know they are at fault for it, why can’t we assist homeless people, regardless of them being at fault for it.?

  • Anonymous

    You’re no longer acceptable to the mainstream of the Republicult if you’re not the truly vicious shortsighted form of sociopath. Even sociopaths who are capable of evaluating reality rationally are not acceptable any longer. The cult has gone beyond hard-hearted and stupid; they’re now into what can only be called metaphysical evil. (and yeah, calling them out hurts their little egos, but so does ignoring them or not being kind enough to them. They’re unhappy that other people exist at all.)

  • Anonymous

    Yup. As expected. Ray Gun has now received the Faux News party-switch treatment.

  • Kymidei Davis

    Whose policies? It’s W’s war without paying for it, W’s creation of thousands of Vets that need care, and the Right Wing’s pet Military Industrial Complex that forces us to buy planes the military doesn’t want or need.

  • Anonymous

    I have now been homeless myself for over 6 years. And yeah I have my own laptop(and a little internet business to go along with it) so I guess I’m an exception to the rule. But the bottom line is this. In the entire time I have been homeless I have never been arrested or had any visits to an emergency room. I have in fact cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing. I don’t collect food stamps and I’m not on any lists for subsidized housing. Nor do I want to be. If you folks want to bust your butts to pay somebody elses mortgage every month (which is all you’re doing if you’re a renter) be my guest. I did it for years myself and ended up with a big fat nothing to show for it. It’s just not anything I want to do anymore with whatever time I have left on this earth. I like living outside,nopt paying any rent and having nothing to do with the “American Dream.” . The highest moral purpose any of us have in life is to make ourselves happy. And I am happy living just the way I do . If the day ever comes that some politician thinks they can pass a law that forces people like myself to accept government handouts against our will is the day that one of your militarized police is going to have to kill me because there is no way in hell that I will ever comply with any man-made law that goes against my moral code. THat is all.

  • JJ042804

    It sure does! Everything Republicans and Corporations do defies logic.

  • Greg Zeglen

    a little hyperbole to make the point is fair…but you sound like a jackass when you speak in superlatives…

  • Greg Zeglen

    how does one pay for something with tax cuts…did you think it was smart to skip accounting 101…or just to avoid somehow a broad general education…I’ll bet you cannot explain the difference between the debt and the deficit without using a book or the internet…

  • Rick Ciraulo

    Reagan was callous and he didn’t’ care. While governor of California he moved as many patients as he could into “Board and Care” homes. Not coincidentally the largest board and care faciltiies were owned by five Reagan cronies. Moving these patients out of State hospitals mad it almost impossible for them to get back into them despite their mental health issues. California had the highest number of homeless in the nation, and the highest number of criminal acts performed by unstable and psychotics who could not receive adequate care and medication.
    If that isn’t enough to show his callous attitude let’s consider the fact that neither he nor Bush were willing to acknowledge AIDS as an epidemic for at least 2 years because it was a “gay disease”.

  • Anonymous

    Chinaskee, I don’t think this article addresses those like you, who are the exception to the rule. If it’s true that we can pay 1/3 the current cost to house and support those who need and want it, I’m all for it. I’m not 100% sure this is true, but they should try it and find out.

    If you think this will ever lead to someone like you being forced to accept such a handout, you’re being a bit paranoid. Don’t harm others and you’ll be left alone.

    I admire your independence and morality.

  • Anonymous

    What we should be promoting is a Housing First model like in Nashville, TN – look for the 60 Minutes segment that Anderson Cooper did to see the How’s Nashville approach to ending homelessness there for the most vulnerable, the chronic homeless, saving lives! But the Housing First model can be applied to all populations of homeless too! We advocate in Savannah but there is a local group in your area,

  • yocona

    It’s called “sarcasm,” Greg Zeglen.

  • Mike

    That’s really great and I’m all about helping others but my fellow leftists automatically assume…why not put them in foreclosed houses, no ones there anyway…I buy frozen meals for lunch and take a 2 hour a day shuttle ride to save that an extra $150 a month on food and gas so I can save more for my future house. I feel guilty when I spend 5 bucks on myself so it does feel like WTF if we suddenly decide to give people houses for free but if it’s just a place to stay while they get back on their feet or deal with their mental issues then I’m all for it.