A report has come to us from Los Angeles County that confirms beliefs that we who work with the homeless population here in El Dorado County have held for many years. This report was based on a trial program that provides housing for some of Los Angeles County’s hardcore homeless, and proved that it more than paid for itself. Providing housing for the homeless yielded a net savings to the county of $238,700 over a two-year period. These results support a growing countywide consensus that moving the most entrenched street dwellers into permanent housing and providing them with the services they need to stay off the streets can save municipalities significant money.
In Los Angeles County, more than 51,000 people are homeless every night (I have seen the numbers as high as 80,000), about a quarter of whom are chronic and suffer from a serious physical, mental or substance abuse problem. This program was controversial because it did not require that the homeless get or be sober before they were housed. Studies done all over the country confirm that homeless people need the stability of a permanent roof over their heads before they can get their lives back on track.
The results of the cost savings were based on comparison studies done between those who were housed and those who remained on the street. Providing housing cost LA County $3.045 million in two years, but generated $3.284 million in estimated savings. That was the equivalent of $4,774 per apartment. Think how much could have been saved if the homeless had been housed in a homeless shelter rather than individual apartments.
Details of the savings seen by LA County will not be covered here, but they showed up in reduced costs for mental health treatment, drug and alcohol abuse programs, reduced outpatient treatment in medical facilities, less use of emergency room services and lower costs for incarceration. Medical treatment costs for the housed fell by 68 percent, compared with a 37 percent drop for those still on the streets. Incarceration costs fell 28 percent for the housed homeless in one year compared to a 42 percent increase for those still on the street. By the second year of this program, the number of incarcerated homeless people dropped from 24 to five.
These figures are not made up nor are they someone’s opinion. They are the results of tests run in LA which match tests run in New York City and other places around the country. Do these figures have meaning for El Dorado County? We are seeing a huge increase in homeless people in our city and county; just ask Placerville’s Chief of Police Nielson. The response to action we have received from the county and the city has always been that “it costs too much money to help the homeless.” No it doesn’t. In fact, putting funds into homeless shelters saves the taxpayers money.
For the first time in my memory, the Placerville city government is now working with homeless non-profits to locate and develop a property to be used to provide a roof over the heads of our growing homeless population, but it won’t likely happen this year. Funding sources are still not apparent. Perhaps this study will awaken people to the fact that action will save our community money, and help to provide a shelter to the homeless men, women and children who are becoming more numerous in Placerville every day.