I am frequently asked “What do we need to do to end homelessness?”. My usual response is it is a very difficult problem to address with many underlying issues and causes. That said, I consistently hear a theme that the most important factor to end homelessness is providing permanent sustainable accommodation for everyone. By sustainable, I mean accommodation that is affordable and is available to everyone on a long term basis. This is different to shelters which are typically provided on a night by night basis because they can only address a portion of the homeless population.
The big challenge is how to provide sustainable housing? To be truly sustainable I believe the operating cost and the occupants income must be equivalent. Today this is not practical but I do think we can significantly close the gap with a long term goal to eliminate it.
I read an excellent paper by Dennis Culhanne who studied the cost of housing the chronically homeless in NYC. He studied almost 5,000 cases of chronic homelessness, chronic defined as those people who spend long periods as homeless including those who never escape. This is also significant because the chronic are the most costly to support and are usually the older members of the homeless community. With the increasing age of our population this group is likely to grow if the current situation is maintained and that is something we should all be concerned about.
Dennis concluded the average annual cost to support a chronically homeless person is roughly $40K a year, the majority of this cost is related to hospitalization, each person spending an average of 3 months in hospital care. For those those people who live in long term housing this cost drops by $16K a year on average. If this holds true, it says if we can provide long term housing at a cost less than $16K per person a year as a society we are better off. If we can provide long term housing below $10K a year per person, we are much better off!
A comfortable 3 bedroom rental house in Beaverton can be rented for about $15K a year and so there is no doubt we can provide permanent housing for significantly below $10K a person per year. Hmmmmn, I sense a breakdown. The facts say a much better solution is available and yet the reality appears to be very different.
If you have any insights about the provision of long term housing to the homeless and its cost please respond. I am curious to learn as much about this as possible.
You have asked a profoundly difficult question, Andy. i’m sure most of us feel terribly inadequate in the face of such a complicated problem. Can we end homelessness with the existing economic and political structures? When I was growing up income taxes were at 90% for the wealthiest. It was against the law for corporations to involve themselves in elections. Homelessness may be the tragic result of a capitalistic society divorced from ethical responsibilities and a commitment to the common good. What you and others are doing is beautiful. I wish the people in power were required to do a certain amount of community service with the homeless. Maybe then they wouldn’t argue their abstract philosophies against such a rudimentary notion as raising the minimum wage. Thanks, Andy, for keeping the spotlight on these people.