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Forum Post: Housing The Homeless Not Only Saves Lives -- It's Actually Cheaper Than Doing Nothing

Posted 5 years ago on Sept. 1, 2014, 9:23 p.m. EST by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC
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It's cheaper to give homeless men and women a permanent place to live than to leave them on the streets.

That’s according to a study of an apartment complex for formerly homeless people in Charlotte, N.C., that found drastic savings on health care costs and incarceration.

Moore Place houses 85 chronically homeless adults, and was the subject of a study by the University of North Carolina Charlotte released on Monday. The study found that, in its first year, Moore Place tenants saved $1.8 million in health care costs, with 447 fewer emergency room visits (a 78 percent reduction) and 372 fewer days in the hospital (a 79 percent reduction).

The tenants also spent 84 percent fewer days in jail, with a 78 percent drop in arrests. The reduction is largely due to a decrease in crimes related to homelessness, such as trespassing, loitering, public urination, begging and public consumption of alcohol, according to Caroline Chambre, director the Urban Ministry Center’s HousingWorks, the main force behind Moore Place.

One tenant, Carl Caldwell, 62, said he used to go to the emergency room five to seven times a week, late at night, so he could spend the night there. “You wouldn’t believe my hospital bills,” Caldwell, who hasn’t had health insurance for years, told The Huffington Post. Caldwell was a teacher for 30 years and became homeless five years ago, when he lost his job and his roommate moved out.

While living on the street, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The disease was particularly challenging for Caldwell, who said he spent his days “trying not to get robbed or killed” and trying to find bathrooms and shelter from freezing weather. Since he moved into Moore Place when it opened in March 2012, Caldwell has gained a regular doctor and has undergone radiation. Now his cancer is in remission. Without having to worry about where he will sleep, he can take his medicine regularly and keep it in his mini fridge.

“Moore Place saved my life,” Caldwell said. “When you’re homeless, you are dependent on everybody. Now I am independent and can give back." Caldwell said he regularly helps feed homeless people now and has reconnected with family members he hadn’t spoken to in years.

Chambre said she expects Moore Place tenants’ mental and physical health to continue to improve with consistent access to health care. “The idea of having a primary care doctor was just a fantasy when they were living on the street,” said Chambre. “Now they all have a regular doctor.”

Moore Place is the first homeless facility in Charlotte with a “housing first” model. Housing first is based on the notion that homeless individuals can more effectively deal with other issues –- such as addiction, employment and physical or mental health -– once they have housing. The other permanent housing facility for the homeless in Charlotte does not follow the “housing first” model, requiring sobriety as a prerequisite.

“Charlotte also has several large shelters with very robust front doors,” Chambre said. “But you have to also have a back door -- a way for people to escape homelessness. Shelters are overcrowded, with people living there for years, which defeats the purpose of emergency shelters.”

Moore Place tenants are required to contribute 30 percent of their income -– which for many residents comes from benefits like disability, veterans or Social Security -– toward rent. The rest of their housing costs, which total about $14,000 per tenant annually, are paid by a combination of private and church donations, and local and federal government funding.

The land and construction for the facility cost $6 million, which Chambre predicted will be surpassed by the millions of dollars the facility will save in health care and incarceration costs.

The UNCC study is one of several studies that have found that providing housing first reduces the overall cost of homelessness.

UNCC assistant professor Lori Thomas, who directed the study, said she found the health care and incarceration improvement among the tenants particularly notable, given how vulnerable the tenants are. Most tenants have two or more disabling health-related conditions, and nearly half suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the study reported.

“This compassionate perspective is a better way to honor the humanity of a person, but it also works from a fiscally responsible perspective,” Thomas said. “This really is a win-win.”




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[-] 2 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 5 years ago

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is preparing to endorse the construction of a number of 192 square foot houses on publicly owned land to help curb the homeless population in the city. The homes, designed by TECHDWELL, would cost between $250 to $350 per month for individuals, with laundry and other amenities on site. Residents making between $5,000 to $15,000 per month could easily afford to rent them.


[-] 2 points by turbocharger (1756) 5 years ago

The lawyers will have a field day with this the minute something goes wrong. No wonder 80% of Congress are lawyers.

[-] 1 points by MattHolck0 (3867) 5 years ago

why should they cost anything ?

[-] 0 points by Narley (272) 5 years ago

Homelessness is more complex than the article wants to admit. The sad truth is the bulk of homeless people are addicts or mentally ill; and exhibit anti-social behavior that precludes them from holding a job or living in a structured environment. Most of these people will never take advantage of any help offered. For instance, they will not live anywhere they can’t take drugs or drink alcohol on a continuous basis.

On the other hand there are some homeless that are just down on their luck for whatever reason. Those few will benefit from help. Generally these folks will eventually work their way out of homelessness. Unfortunately they are the minority homeless.

I recently traveled to San Francisco. I lived in the Bay area many years ago and this was my first trip back since 1995. Walking down Market Street I was hit up by panhandlers several times. I also saw several people I assume were homeless drinking while sitting on the sidewalk. I even saw them at the BART station and at Fisherman’s Wharf. They were everywhere; asking for money. The person I was with told me the panhandlers, drunks and drug addicts where starting to hurt the tourist trade. Tourists hears about San Francisco’s homeless and will no longer come to San Francisco.

So, in short. I applaud to program discussed in the article. But it’s naive to think it will make any significant differences.

[-] 2 points by turbocharger (1756) 5 years ago

It is much more complex than that. Ive been there, not in the severity of many of the people you speak of, but at the end of the day I was one of them who had the mental capacity to do it, just couldnt get out of my own way.

The ones who cant get out of their own way are another problem altogether. Ive got a ton of family and friends like that, just one bad decision after another for an entire lifetime, not sure what to do to help them sometimes.