On March 30, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a study that found that providing homeless families and individuals with short-term shelters costs more than renting permanent housing.
The study included interviews with 9,000 families and individuals in six different cities. The average bill for a month in an emergency shelter ranges from $2,500 to $3,700. For that amount, it would be possible to rent an apartment.
Why are the homeless still directed toward shelters (which are almost always crowded beyond capacity) instead of beg installed in permanent housing? If providing housing and services according to a person’s needs costs less, why support an overpriced system that sustains homelessness?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to effectively eliminate homelessness when doing so is clearly more economical than maintaining a mechanism that falls short?
The report examines 2004 to 2006 and does not begin to address the wave of homelessness generated by the recession. With the increase in homelessness since the dates of the study, the urgency to provide permanent housing is even greater.
The findings of the study support the Obama administration’s efforts to help the homeless. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of last year allotted $1.5 billion to prevent homelessness. But 1.6 million homeless people nationwide are still stuck in shelters.
The argument “We can’t afford it” falls flat in light of the study’s findings. If communities are already spending excessively to sustain the shelter population, there should be little resistance to reducing costs by moving the people currently living in shelters to suitable housing.
The only excuse for not doing so would have to be that communities have an interest in keeping the homeless in their homeless condition.
It will take time for communities to redevelop their programs in the direction that the report indicates is less expensive. The big question now is, will the people in charge actually respond to this report, or will they continue to sustain the status quo? In a time of recession, the sensible thing to do would be to spend less, not more, and to end homelessness for good.
There can be little doubt that the majority of homeless people would be far happier in conventional housing instead of occupying shelter space. It would be a win-win situation to enable these people to live as members of mainstream society at a lower cost. It would be wonderful if homelessness could be ended at a saving to the public budget.