Want to save money — lots of money — on homeless people? Give them free housing!
The United Way of Los Angeles studied four people who had been living on the streets, then they put them into free apartments and got them access to free support services. Interestingly, it cost the government less money than it did when they were homeless. How could that be?
Living on the street can be rough. If you get sick, you go to the emergency room. During the time they were on the streets, the four people together used the emergency room 19 times. There were also the costs of shelters, which require people to run them. In addition, homeless people tend to get arrested, and the cost for police and jails is substantial.
In total, when the four were living on the streets, it cost the government $187,288. Afterwards, the same four people, including their free housing costs and all the free services, cost the government $107,032. The biggest savings was in medical costs, which went from $26,060 to $830, and in criminal justice costs, which went from $23,361 to zero.
That’s a savings of over $20,000 per person! Los Angeles is estimated to have 100,000 homeless people, so that could mean a savings of $2 billion in just one city.
Of course, our government is cutting services for the poor, and the mortage crisis is increasing the number of homeless people. We’re spending increasing amounts on medical costs and jails. No wonder our governments (especially state governments) are going broke. And the Republicans are calling for even more cuts to services for the poor, which will likely make the situation even worse.
Unintended consequences can be a bitch.