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Fla. Study: Leaving Homeless On Streets Costs More Than Providing Housing

| by Jared Keever

A new study in Central Florida shows that it would be more cost effective to provide permanent housing for the region’s chronically homeless than to leave them on the street. 

The economic-impact analysis that was presented to the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness last week indicates it would cost about $10,000 per person to provide housing and case workers to homeless people in the area. By contrast, the study shows that the area currently spends a yearly average of $31,065 per person to arrest, jail and provide medical care to the same people. 

"The numbers are stunning," the homeless 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.”

The study was conducted by Tulsa, Okla.-based Creative Housing Solutions and paid for by the homeless commission with a $15,000 donation from the Orlando Solar Bears, a minor league hockey team. 

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The study tracked 107 of the region’s estimated 1,577 homeless people in three counties. Researchers involved with the study told the commission that if they were able to provide permanent, supportive housing for even half of the homeless in the area they would save taxpayers an estimated $149 million over the next decade. That number factors in a 10 percent failure rate—people choosing to return to the street.

"We're not going to bat a thousand," said Greg Shinn, who led the study and works for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma.

Shinn said that neglecting the problem in the area has only caused it to grow worse. 

“The lack of an overall coordinated plan to aggressively address the problem across the three county area, and kind of the lack of a coordinated planning has allowed the problem to grow by leaps and bounds over the past several years,” he told local radio station WMFE.

Bailey said he understands that most chronically homeless people are typically suffering from some form of mental illness and supports the idea of providing housing and supervision for such people to make sure they get the help they need. 

"These are not people who are just going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job," Bailey said. "They're never going to get off the streets on their own.”

The report seems to have had the desired effect. The study and the suggestion of permanent housing has also drawn the support of Bob Brown, CEO of the Heart of Florida United Way.

“This is no longer [one person] from the Coalition for the Homeless saying we have to do something," Brown said. "This is a reliable consultant who has used proven methods for calculating the cost. Hopefully this will finally get the attention of community and government leaders. We can't wish this away."

Sources: Orlando Sentinel, WMFE