Many in our community think of homelessness as just a nuisance. Others want people who are homeless to be out of sight so they are out of mind. And there are others who are passionate about ending homelessness in our community…not by sending homeless people to other communities but by providing housing and support services for those without a roof to call home.
Homeless people in our community are OUR people. They are part of the fabric here. We may think that they are on the frayed edges of our hometown but they are here. They are part of us.
We pay for homelessness. We can choose if the money we as taxpayers and generous community supporters is used to help keep homelessness in our midst OR if we want to spend on solutions to long term persistent homelessness. For example, homeless people are big users of emergency room services. The average cost of an emergency room visit is $2,122. The average cost of inpatient services is $32,086. When a community can reduce the number of emergency room visits that someone with serious mental, addiction, or physical issues makes each year, the community costs are reduced significantly. Savings can be used to provide housing with support services that provide long term solutions and still have money left. Moore Place in Charlotte, NC, reported that their residents cost the community over $2.5 million in emergency room visits and hospitalizations in the year prior to moving into Moore Place. During the first year of operation, those costs dropped to $761,000.
People who experience homelessness long term often end up spending time in jail. South Carolina pays $17,357 a year per inmate ($47.55 per day.) When all funds spent are included, SC spends $19,137 annually per inmate ($52.43 per day.) Moore House which houses 85 chronically homeless adults and uses a “Housing First” model saw arrests for residents drop by 78 percent during the first year of operation. In addition, 84 percent fewer days were spent in jail.
The Housing First model is based on the notion that homeless individuals can more effectively deal with other issues such as addiction, employment, and physical or mental health once they have housing. Denver’s Housing First program found an annual cost savings of $31,545 per participant. Los Angeles found that housing individuals experiencing chronic homelessness reduced public costs by 79 percent. Since implementing Housing First programs in 2005, Utah has seen its chronic homelessness rate drop by 74 percent and continues to see declines every year.
Greenville has Reedy Place with 23 one-bedroom units and uses the Housing First model. In tracking its first 15 residents from its opening in 2006, staff discovered that five of the original residents are still doing well living at Reedy Place. Another five of the residents have been able to move on to better situations for them, one resident has died, and the other four of the original fifteen have various issues so they are no longer connected. With two-thirds of the original fifteen still in very stable situations, Reedy Place is proving that safe, permanent housing with appropriate support services is a viable solution for our community.
Permanent housing with appropriate support services addresses the issues that people who cannot sign long term leases face. They cannot find housing to rent that’s affordable because of poor credit, criminal records, mental or other illnesses, addiction issues, or sporadic income. They end up costing our community through emergency room visits, hospitalizations, incarcerations, and a variety of community services such as soup kitchens or night shelters. These options are very expensive when compared to providing housing with support services.
Our community pays for homelessness one way or the other. Do we want to keep throwing money at a problem OR do we want to invest in people, thereby providing long term solutions?