Sheltering Homeless Saves Money, Study Says
Placing four chronically homeless people into permanent supportive housing in Los Angeles resulted in more than $80,000 per year in savings to taxpayers and improved quality of life for the individuals, according to a recent study led by Michael R. Cousineau, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Heather Lander, project specialist at the USC Center for Community Health Studies.
The Homeless Cost Study — a collaboration between the Center for Community Health Studies and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles — profiled four previously homeless individuals who had been placed in a supportive housing environment.
Investigators found that the total cost of public services spent on the four individuals during two years living on the street was $187,288. The cost of public services dropped by more than $20,000 per person during two subsequent years spent in stable, permanent housing.
“By looking at the individual stories behind these numbers, we were able to understand the real social, financial and health factors impacting the homeless,” Cousineau said. “There are more homeless in Los Angeles than in any other city in the nation, and there is compelling evidence that getting people off the street and into permanent housing has significant individual and community benefits.”
The qualitative study profiled a 52-year-old white female, a 58-year-old white male, a 32-year-old Hispanic male and a 61-year-old African American male. Five principal cost areas — substance abuse, physical health, mental health, criminal justice and housing — were analyzed in order to determine the total taxpayer cost to provide social services.
During their time living on the street, the individuals regularly used emergency services for health and alcohol issues. All four had been arrested at least once and spent time in jail, and two of the four had been hospitalized.
After two years in permanent housing, which included access to mental and physical health and education classes, investigators observed increased stability and improved quality of life for all four participants.
During the study time period, only one individual visited the emergency room and none entered the criminal justice system. The only area where costs increased was mental health, which is a positive finding because people who use community mental health resources are less likely to use the hospital emergency room, Cousineau noted.
“Government financing of supportive housing is a wise public investment. It saves taxpayer dollars and makes important contributions to solving homelessness,” he said.