The findings of an independent economic impact analysis commissioned by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness won't surprise most homeless advocates : it costs way more to leave homeless people on the streets than it does to house and assist them.
According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel, the study accounted for several costs:
The price tag covers the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals - largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks - as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues.
The price tag for all of that comes out to $31,065 every year for each chronically homeless person on the street. But the researchers behind the study say that for $10,000 a year - roughly a third of the cost - those same people could be housed and provided with a case manager.
The homeless commission's CEO, Andrae Bailey, finds that contrast outrageous:
The numbers are stunning. 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... These are not people who are just going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job, They're never going to get off the streets on their own.
But as astounding as those numbers are, they don't even calculate the enormous amount of money spent by non-profits assisting the homeless.
According to lead researcher Gregory Shinn:
We didn't even include the money spent by nonprofit agencies to feed, clothe and sometimes shelter these individuals. This is only money that we could document for the individuals we studied - and it's money that is simply being wasted. The law-enforcement costs alone are ridiculous. They're out of control.
Billions of dollars are spent each year hiding homelessness from public view. Laws criminalizing basic human behaviors like sitting, sleeping and eating make it a de facto crime to be homeless in many cities, and many of those same places make it illegal to provide food to the homeless.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless say that these policies appear to be crafted to conceal and ultimately purge the homeless population:
Even though most cities do not provide enough affordable housing, shelter space, and food to meet the need, many cities use the criminal justice system to punish people living on the street for doing things that they need to do to survive... Many of these measures appear to have the purpose of moving homeless people out of sight, or even out of a given city.
And like law enforcement's War on Drugs, the war on visible homelessness doesn't come cheap.