Huge homelessness costs don’t address the causes

For most of his life, Murray Barr was an ordinary American. Everything changed abruptly when his story of personal tragedy and period of homelessness created a media frenzy.
Malcom Gladwell, in his article Million Dollar Murray, used Murray as an example of how homelessness was costing taxpayers in Reno, Nevada, around $1 million despite Murray not having a permanent home.
Murray’s story shocked many because it seemed unfathomable that homelessness cost money. In reality, this is far too common.
People without a home, and lacking supports for mental illness and addiction, can draw significantly on social services for survival, including shelters, social agencies and hospitals. They also tend to interact more frequently with police, fire and paramedic services – those agencies on the frontlines, dealing with the visible symptoms of homelessness. This all costs money.
In Canada, for persons struggling with homelessness and mental illness, the annual costs are  $53,144 per person. This number comes from research published this summer from the At Home Chez Soi (AHCS)
project which calculates the cost of those often termed “hard to house.”
The AHCS study assessed the effectiveness of Housing First in five cities – Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton. The project was massive, using $110 million to end homelessness by providing housing and key supports delivered by specialized teams with small caseloads. The outcome demonstrated clearly that Housing First is a much more effective model than the current fractured set of supports used to assist persons struggling with mental illness and homelessness, where costs can rapidly escalate like they did with “Million Dollar Murray.”
The Housing First model saves money by curbing the over-consumption of services. Not only did the project prove Housing First effectively ends homelessness for an estimated 15% of the homeless population struggling with mental illness, but it also concluded that Housing First can offset much of the $53,000 per person cost of doing nothing or relying too heavily on the current system.
Jino Distasio
— Jino Distasio is an expert advisor with
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