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Housing the Homeless Saves Taxpayers Money, (Another) Study Shows

Eric Justian
| Thursday March 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

3795168896_98b8242c60_zA new analysis from Charlotte, N.C. once again shows what we’ve learned from many other case studies: It costs taxpayers less money to house the homeless than it does to leave them to the elements.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined Moore Place, a housing complex with 85 units, constructed in 2012 specifically to meet the needs of homeless individuals in the Charlotte area. Moore Place requires residents to pay 30 percent of their income (which includes things like veterans and disability benefits) toward the cost of rent. The remaining housing cost per person, per year is about $14,000 — which Moore Place pays for through Federal and local grants.

If that $14,000 seems like somebody is soaking the system, keep in mind it costs about $30,000 per year or more to imprison somebody. Sometimes a lot more. Which is one important reason that giving the homeless a place to live can save taxpayers money. The population at Moore Place saw a 78 percent drop in arrests and 84 percent fewer days in jail compared to living on the streets. That’s fewer people in expensive prisons, less police work, a reduction of caseload for the courts, and the aversion of a whole range of taxpayer costs that occur when people run afoul of the law. More savings come from fewer emergency room visits. Residents of Moore Place also collectively made 447 fewer emergency room visits and spent 372 fewer nights in the hospital than they would have otherwise. The emergency room tends to be the go-to source for medical attention for homeless populations — a very pricey medical option.

Turns out that having a place to stay reduces the likelihood that a person will find themselves sustaining injury or illness and getting into trouble with the law.

All told the researchers at the University of North Carolina found a $1.8 million taxpayer savings. That almost 2 million bucks taxpayers don’t need to shell out, potentially safer streets, maybe less waiting at the emergency room, and more human dignity — for a single 85-unit building. The initiative was such a success that the city council of Charlotte approved $1 million in funding to increase Moore Place to 120 units.

Similar initiatives around the country are following the same principle. Colorado turned the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility into housing for the homeless. It’s estimated that each homeless person on the street costs taxpayers $43,240. By contrast it costs just $16,813, on average, to house that same person.

I had the honor of visiting Braddock, Penn. and meeting Mayor John Fetterman and other community leaders of the beleaguered city. Braddock lost 90 percent of its population and 90 percent of its businesses over the course of 20 years, leaving the town destitute and empty. It had a high homeless population and a high crime rate, including homicide. One of the solutions was to renovate some of the numerous empty homes and use them for low-cost housing for the homeless.

Unfortunately, while practical solutions like this save communities and taxpayers tons of money while creating safer streets, there are those who find these common-sense solutions distasteful simply on principle. But leaving the homeless on the streets, in addition to being a failure of compassion, is demonstrably penny wise and pound foolish.

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