A real solution to homelessness that saves money

Guest commentary: A real solution to homelessness that saves money
By Kristie Tappan

The term "chronically homeless" suggests this kind of homelessness cannot be solved, but people across
the country and in Contra Costa County are proving that is not true. Not only can we end homelessness,
but we can save money doing so.

The solution to homelessness is a home. Communities have saved lives, advanced human dignity, and
reduced costs by providing permanent housing to some of the most vulnerable people in our
neighborhoods. Studies show that a "Housing First" approach that gets people a permanent place to live is
the most effective way to end homelessness.

Once a person has a place to live, problems with security, health, and substance abuse become easier and
less expensive to treat.

This Housing First model has worked in cities across the country. The Denver Housing First Collaborative
identified chronically homeless community members, helped them move into permanent supportive
housing, and saved about $2,000 per person per year.

People used less health care, substance abuse services, and emergency shelter once they had a place to
live. If Denver housed its entire homeless population, that could result in savings of over $11 million.
In Charlotte, N.C., the cost savings were even more striking. The Charlotte Urban Ministry Center found it
cost $37,000 per year per person to serve chronically homeless community members, but only $10,000 to
provide permanent supportive housing.

That saves $27,000 per person per year. If California could do the same and provide permanent housing to its 31,000 chronically homeless community members, the state could save a staggering $837 million.
The Urban Ministry Center made a case that permanent supportive housing was a good investment, and
donors agreed. The center built 85 permanent units because businesses, foundations, and individuals
knew their dollars would go far, but they may not have realized just how far they would go.

When I spoke with the Urban Ministry Center, I learned that many of their newly housed clients volunteer in the community and advocate for others before the city council.

A man learned how to cut hair and became a barber. A woman reunited with her family and now babysits
her granddaughter. The community came together to build homes, and in the process, helped build up
people's self-worth.

People stopped thinking about how to survive and started thinking about how to thrive, and for many, that meant giving back.

In Contra Costa County, SHELTER Inc., the Multi-Faith ACTION Coalition, the Family Economic Security
Partnership, the Safety Net Innovation Task Force, and Poverty Report Card are working together to
eliminate homelessness. The coalition is looking at how to expand the Housing First approach and increase permanent supportive housing for people with the greatest need in Contra Costa County. The week before Thanksgiving -- Nov. 15-23 -- is set aside as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. It should help us focus on what is important.

As we reflect on what we are thankful for and how we can give back this year, consider donating and
volunteering with local homeless providers, but also make sure to send an email or make a phone call to
your representative on the board of supervisors.

Tell your supervisor that the county should support our community groups and provide permanent
supportive housing to homeless people. Tell your supervisor this approach is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the fiscally responsible thing to do.

We can't end homelessness with after-the-fact services, no matter how well-intentioned and helpful they
may be. We need to think about permanent solutions, and here, we have a solution that not only works but that also saves money.

That is something to be thankful for.


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