Tag Archives: Homelessness

Kansas Housing Cost/Benefit Analysis Released by Kim Wilson Housing

Kim Wilson Housing recently published the results of a months-long research effort into the costs of various housing and other interventions in Kansas.  Broadly, I think its results match those of similar studies done previously nationwide, and reinforce the excellent cost/benefit value of permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing.

Read the report for yourself right here: Cost Benefit Analysis for KS 2014-final

My thoughts:

  • Keeping Kansans homeless is very expensive!  A person experiencing homelessness in Kansas accesses about $153.00 of services – including ambulance and ER services, encounters with police, emergency shelter, etc. – per day.  In contrast, permanent supportive housing (which decreases uses of these other services drastically) costs about $29 per day for scattered-site projects (i.e. rent vouchers and wrap-around services).  Budget-minded taxpayers ought to favor increasing permanent supportive housing, it seems to me!
  • The cost of an ambulance ride plus an emergency room visit is roughly equal to that of providing 61 days of permanent supportive housing in a scattered site project.  ER “frequent fliers” can access the ER several times per month; identifying and housing these folks drastically improve their health, along with saving money!

The way we do things now results in huge, mostly hidden, costs to all of us for emergency health, police, and housing services.  There are better ways that, together, communities across the country are working toward.  They have to make sense locally, but they all include improved data systems, collection, and reporting, re-allocation of resources toward permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing, and housing first-style priorities (i.e. our system does not prolong someone’s homelessness due to addiction, lack of “job readiness,” criminal record, etc.).

If you had a housing crisis tonight, which system would you want to encounter?  The one we have now?  Or the one we’re building?

Ending Homelessness in Utah by Housing People

Following up on my previous post about the million dollars spent not housing Murray, here’s an article on what Utah is doing to end homelessness.  One key finding:

In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached.

We have every reason to believe these findings hold true nation-wide.  For example, locally in Kansas City, ReDiscover’s hospital diversion program has saved approximately $13.7 million in medical costs with an $800,000 up-front investment in just 18 months.  The state of Missouri is implementing it state-wide, and it’s easy to understand why, whether your motivation is helping people, saving money, or both.

Are these articles true to your experience?  And if so, what data would help your community move toward ending homelessness by housing people first?

Innovative Housing for Chronically Homeless

Look what they’re up to in Austin, TX… a very cool housing opportunity for the Chronically Homeless




Some highlights behind the idea — Community support appears to be a huge factor for this project. Residents have buy-in and are contributing to their neighborhood. Opposition and the NIMBY attitude are always a factor, but seem to be less present here. The idea is innovative and even exciting (there’s an outdoor movie theater!) to neighbors and others in the surrounding area. There are some prominent community members who are involved as well (someone get the number for the Alamo Drafthouse guy… he has a theater here in KC!). This has been almost a decade in the making and it will be very interesting to see how it progresses.

Food for thought — Plenty of people are interested in doing things that will help others and their community. There are actually business owners who are willing to be a part of bettering the place around them (gasp!). So, how can communities do a more efficient job of connecting people that want to help with these issues with local agencies who know where their talents can be most used? And how do communities engage those who could help, but don’t even know how much their resources might assist those in need (more easily than they might imagine)? How can our community utilize these practices to the fullest potential? After all, we’re all in this together.

For Nine Ambulance Trips, We Can House Someone Safely

My sister has been reading Malcolm Gladwell, chanced across his piece on Million-Dollar Murray, and asked me if it rang true to my experiences with homeless services in Kansas City.  In it, he argues that “homeless may be easier to solve than to manage.” I’d add “more humane” and “more affordable” to that, and I think he’d agree.

“We came up with three names that were some of our chronic inebriates in the downtown area, that got arrested the most often … One of the guys had been in jail previously, so he’d only been on the streets for six months. In those six months, he had accumulated a bill of a hundred thousand dollars—and that’s at the smaller of the two hospitals near downtown Reno. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that the other hospital had an even larger bill… [This person] was Murray Barr, and Johns and O’Bryan realized that if you totted up all his hospital bills for the ten years that he had been on the streets—as well as substance-abuse-treatment costs, doctors’ fees, and other expenses—Murray Barr probably ran up a medical bill as large as anyone in the state of Nevada.

“It cost us one million dollars not to do something about Murray,” O’Bryan said.

A trusted source here locally tells me that they have a client who called the ambulance 126 times in 2012.  At $700 per call, that’s $88,200 in services in one year before adding any medical treatment or other emergency services.  In comparison, a conservative estimate of the cost of one unit of permanent supportive housing is $6,500 per year.  That’s not to say that a person in supportive housing won’t ever need an ambulance, but they certainly won’t need one every third day.

Why do we use our resources this way?  As human beings, why aren’t we insisting on safe, appropriate housing for everyone?  As taxpayers, why aren’t we demanding more permanent supportive housing?  Gladwell says it’s because the answers don’t conform to our moral intuitions.

Power-law solutions [ED: Power law at Wikipedia] have little appeal to the right, because they involve special treatment for people who do not deserve special treatment; and they have little appeal to the left, because their emphasis on efficiency over fairness suggests the cold number-crunching of Chicago-school cost-benefit analysis … In Denver, John Hickenlooper, the city’s enormously popular mayor, has worked on the homelessness issue tirelessly during the past couple of years … He has commissioned studies to show what a drain on the city’s resources the homeless population has become. But, he says, “there are still people who stop me going into the supermarket and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to help those homeless people, those bums.’”

So, how do we frame developing permanent supportive housing units to voters, funders, and elected officials?

2013 AHAR Shows Decreases in Chronic and Veteran Homelessness

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) One CPD Resource Exchange email list recently sent a message summarizing HUD’s 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.  This report contains some outstanding news; measurable, sustained decreases in chronic and veteran homelessness!  (Plus, it has occurred in spite of our ongoing recession!)

Based on data reported by more than 3,000 cities and counties, last January’s one-night estimate reveals a 24 percent drop in homelessness among Veterans and a 16 percent reduction among individuals experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness since 2010. HUD’s estimate also found the largest decline in the number of persons in families experiencing homelessness since the Department began measuring homelessness in a standard manner in 2005…

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said this:

“If we’re going to end homelessness as we know it, we need a continued bipartisan commitment from Congress to break the cycle trapping our most vulnerable citizens between living in a shelter or a life on the streets. I understand these are tough budget times but these are proven strategies that are making a real difference. We simply can’t balance our budget on the backs of those living on the margins.”

This progress has occurred in the context of the Obama administration’s Opening Doors program, a cross-department road map shared among 19 federal agencies aimed at ending veteran homelessness by 2015 and child, youth, and family homelessness by 2020.  The reduction in homelessness is primarily attributed to the HUD-VASH voucher program, and expanded permanent supportive housing programs in local communities.

Great news like this reminds me that we know how to end homelessness (house people!  And support them in maintaining their housing!), and that once you factor in emergency services (police, ambulance, ER, etc.) and the costs of homelessness (employability, social connections, etc.) we can do it for something like the same amount we spend now.  Personally, I’d be happy to pay a bit more in taxes if I was confident it would result in more people being housed, but my point is that it’s probably not even necessary; we just need to allocate our resources differently, perhaps shifting some of the savings on emergency services into permanent housing programs.

News like this reminds me that there is no moral or practical reason why any of our neighbors need to continue experiencing homelessness.  Only a bias toward the status quo stands between us and a housing system that works for everyone.

News like this gives me a sense of urgency.  Those who will suffer homelessness tonight stuffer needlessly!  What can we do, today, to help create a better housing system?

Is there any way I can help you in that work?

Can you feel it?