Homes, Not Jails

United Way Study Shows Once Again that Permanent Supportive Housing Saves Money in Los Angeles County

A report released by United Way reaffirms the resounding message that we have repeated with our allies over and over again, that permanent supportive housing is more cost efficient than the way the City and County treats (and incarcerates) homeless people now.  By analyzing the cost of substance abuse, physical health, mental health, criminal justice and housing for four previously chronically homeless men and women, researchers from USC’s Center for Community Health Studies found that permanent supportive housing resulted in a savings cost of almost 43% (United Way, 3).  For the four individuals, the cost of living for two years as a homeless person added up to $187,288, whereas life in supportive housing for two years was $107,032.

As too many homeless men and women know too well, especially downtown, the criminal justice system is one of the key means of “dealing” with homelessness in LA—for the four individuals from the survey encounters with law enforcement over two years totaled a cost of $23,361.  While some of the encounters were for alcohol and drug related crime, others were quality of life issues such as sleeping on the street.  In the downtown community specifically, the so-called Safer Cities Initiative has worsened the financial burden of being homeless and poor, with expensive minor infraction tickets, leading to outstanding warrants and jail time. The criminalization of homelessness and poverty has many other hidden aspects, besides the explicit cost of jail time—incarceration can lead to disqualification from many government programs such as subsidized housing, food stamps and other basic necessity services.

In addition to costs from the criminal justice system, the homeless individuals also needed medical attention.  This included hospital visits for the removal of a kidney stone and a bladder infection (at a cost of $20,250), and all of the study participants visited the emergency a total of 19 times totaling $7,885.  The report demonstrated how the necessity of receiving health services (physical and substance abuse) dramatically decreased from $26,060 to $830 and $25,457 to $6,002 respectively.  In the context of exorbitant health care costs shared by all, it is important to take the preventative measures to reduce costs for all.

More importantly than what simply the numbers reveal is how permanent housing can dramatically improve the lives of homeless men, women and families.  As one of the individuals explained to an interviewer, he “began to feel like he belonged” and now “finally feels like he’s home” (3).

Housing is a human right. Health is a human right. Please join us in solidarity for calling for the right solutions to the housing crisis and health care nightmare in LA.

Homeless Cost Survey. Rep. United Way, Oct 2009.


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