Doing Nothing to Fix Homelessness Comes With Unexpected Costs for Americans

Homeless people are costing taxpayers in Florida almost $50 million every year. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness released a new study showing that Florida residents pay $31,065 per chronically homeless person every year for their public expenses including transportation, cost of jail, emergency room visits and other hospitalization. 

The study found that it would cost taxpayers just $10,051 per homeless person to provide permanent housing, as well as services like job training and health care. That figure is 68% less than what people are currently spending as the homeless remain on the streets. This means that if central Florida took the permanent supportive housing approach, it could save $350 million over the next decade.

Creative Housing Solutions, an Oklahoma-based consultant group, conducted the study and tracked public expenses accrued by 107 chronically homeless individuals in central Florida. Researchers worked with local homeless outreach programs to identify 107 long-term homeless residents living in Orange, Osceola or Seminole counties. Using jail and hospital records, they tracked public expenses through the years to come up with the yearly average of $31,065 per person. That figure was multiplied by 1,577 — the number of chronically homeless people throughout the three counties. In both cases, the consulting group said figures were considered conservative.

"The numbers are stunning," the commission's CEO, Andrae Bailey, told the Orlando Sentinel. "Our community will spend nearly half a billion dollars [on the chronically homeless], and at the end of the decade, these people will still be homeless. It doesn't make moral sense, and now we know it doesn't make financial sense."

Image Credit: ThinkProgress

These types of conversations are particularly important in Florida, one of the most dangerous states to live in if you're homeless. Hate crimes against the homeless in Florida were double that of California, which was the second state on the National Coalition for the Homeless' 2012 database of known cases of violence. Meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale proposed an ordinance allowing the city to seize homeless people's possessions and lock them up after 24 hours' notice. Last year, Tampa, which has the highest homelessness rate, forewent all the window dressing and simply criminalized their homeless. 

Earlier this year, researchers found that in Florida's Osceola county, taxpayers had spent $5,081,680 over the past decade in incarceration expenses to repeatedly jail just 37 chronically homeless people. A report by Florida's Council on Homelessness says that at a January night last year, local communities counted more than 45,000 people in 54 counties that were homeless. For the country, that figure on one night was more than 633,000 in 2012. 

But Florida isn't alone in spending such large amount of public money for the homeless. Last month, University of North Carolina at Charlotte researchers published a study that showed putting homeless people in a new apartment saved $1.8 million in just one year. 

Indeed, this study highlights just one small piece of a nationwide epidemic. In New York City, the increasing numbers of homelessness has made people seemingly immune to their very existence, as a project showed last month.

It's time to have a real conversation about the millions of homeless Americans around the country. This latest survey proves that the quest to help them get back on their feet and into safe housing is not just social justice issue, it's an economic one, as well.


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Smriti Sinha

Smriti is a multimedia journalist trained at the Columbia School of Journalism. Before moving to New York, she was a sports reporter at The Indian Express in New Delhi. She continues to cover issues in sports, women's and LGBT rights.

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