Study: Homelessness a False Economy

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 24, 2008

It would be so nice to help the homeless, if only we could afford it.

That has long been the position of public policy "realists" in a running argument against improving the quality of service for the poor on pragmatic rather than ideological grounds.

We can expect to see this kind of reasoning at work tomorrow when Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan rolls out his new budget, as a justification for not doing more to keep his government's promise to the poor.

But what if it costs more to let the homeless stay homeless than it would cost to help them?

In an intriguing new 150 page report prepared by academics from Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary, B.C. ends up spending some $55,000 per homeless person per year. The cost is split among emergency health care, policing and social services.

The Vancouver Sun reports:

The estimated annual cost of $55,000 per homeless person takes into consideration the high risk of infectious diseases. The study says some individuals can be slow to accept treatment because they don't recognize their mental illness, and may circulate through the court system because of a need to get drugs and food.

The study argues that if housing and support were offered to these people, it would cost the system much less - just $37,000 a year.

The report calculated that a capital investment of $784 million is needed to provide adequate housing to the 11,750 homeless people, and a further $148 million per year is required for housing-related support services.

But the study argues that after removing what the province is paying for health care, jail and shelters, and by spreading the capital costs out over several years, taxpayers could ultimately stand to save nearly $33 million annually. [emphasis added]

It appears that we're fast running out of excuses not to do right by the most vulnerable members of our society.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Tom Cooper (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2008 at 11:40:11

Hey Ryan, good post.

There's a great program locally called 'Hostels to Homes' that is doing exactly that. Locally it costs around $1200/ a month to keep a single person in a homeless shelter for one month - that usually consists of sleeping on a mat on a crowded floor and being provided with some limited supports from overworked staff at the shelter.

Meanwhile a person on Ontario Works only receives $560/month to pay for rent, food, clothing, hygiene products, telephone, etc. etc.

The idea around Hostels to Homes was to take that $1200 and use it to provide a person who was chronically homeless with a rented apartment, fund some supports to help them keep housed and manage money and ensure they are fed and kept warm.

The program has been tremendously successful, moving more than 50 people – many of whom were on the street for years – into their own homes. On Wednesday, of last week, City Council's Emergency and Community Services Committee recommended another $1.3 million towards providing another 100 rental subsidies that could be used for this program.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2008 at 14:25:29

Homelessness will never be solved.

The reason is that all those people working in the "homeless industry" would then have to go out and get real jobs.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2008 at 00:05:32

^yes, because they're such high paying and personally satisfying jobs...

by the way, what is your 'real' job? how is it that you contribute something meaningful to our society? please, do tell.

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By everywhere (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2008 at 12:18:18

yes, easier said than done. 3 things>

not easy to get a job these days, not easy to find a reasonable apartment or room for rent and as tough or tougher owning a car.

I cycle and many of us do same. When drivers (some) yell out "get a car!", are they joking or serious or just plain stupid?

I could say a lot more but stop here for now.


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By markus (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2008 at 17:15:25

You have add up all the factors. Police,courts,lawers(legal aid)Bilaw officers hospi tals,doctors,THINK ABOUT THE WHOLE PICTURE NOT JUST THE SHELTER COST DUMMIES

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