Housing homeless people far cheaper than hospitals & jails,

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 19 Nov 1998 17:32:06 -0400

The article below cites statistics which indicate that "supportive housing"
for long-term homeless people is much more cost-effective than
alternatives, such as mental hospitalization and jail.

FWD  Business First [Greater Columbus Business Authority] Nov 9, 1998

[Columbus, Ohio, USA]


  Viewpoint: by Bill Bennett

The Scioto Peninsula Relocation Task Force recently unveiled a
comprehensive five-year proposal to provide long-term housing solutions
that end the cycle of homelessness.

The plan is not about relocating a homeless shelter. It is about rebuilding
lives. The plan is gaining widespread support and merits the endorsement of
Central Ohio's business community.

Many of the costs of homelessness are visible, such as the negative image
of people living on the streets and their human suffering. Yet the real
costs of homelessness are those we don't see.

These include the hidden costs of an inadequate system for taking care of
homeless men. We experience the impact of homelessness in the loss of
potential workers and in the cost of emergency hospitalization, jails and
substance-abuse treatment.

If your business is like ours, you create products and services tailored to
the needs of your market. That's not what we're doing with our homeless
service system. Instead, we use a "one size fits all" approach.

The task force's research showed that 85 percent of homeless men use
shelters for short-term stays of less than a month, but 15 percent of men
stay in the system for as long as 500 days, using more than half of all
shelter services.

What the task force discovered was that emergency shelters work best for
the majority of homeless men who face a one-time catastrophic event.

But these shelters don't work for men with chronic, long-term problems who
need stable, specialized housing.

Meeting these individual needs is the key to ending the cycle of
homelessness. The changes recommended by the task force would strengthen
the "safety net" of emergency shelters available to those who are in a
sudden crisis. Other recommendations would provide specialized housing
alternatives to better help those who have long-term needs.

The cornerstone of this housing strategy is the creation of permanent,
affordable housing combined with counseling, job training and services,
called "supportive housing." Approximately 800 housing units would be
dispersed throughout Central Ohio. They would be designed to provide
substance-abuse treatment, medical assistance, mental-health services and
other support on-site.

Although this is a new direction for Columbus, it is not untried. The task
force thoroughly researched and adopted the best practices around our city
and nation. Here in Columbus, the Community Housing Network, which provides
housing for people with severe mental illnesses, is an exemplary local
program that works closely with service providers and nearby residents.

Supportive housing is an approach that works. A national study showed a 55
percent increase in employment for residents living in a supportive housing

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, low-income people in
housing were able to get out of the hospital 36 percent more quickly than
homeless people. Another study showed that a supportive housing program
reduced mental health hospitalization by 75 percent and cut incarceration
and arrest rates by more than 90 percent.

Supportive housing is cost-effective for Franklin County. The daily cost
per bed for supportive housing for homeless men with long-term needs is
projected to be $36, compared with $60 per bed for a minimum security jail
cell and $482 for a state psychiatric hospital bed.

Supportive housing can even play a role in the business community's No. 1
problem - the local labor shortage.

By linking men with job training and placement, supportive housing prepares
men to rejoin the local work force. Most of our city's homeless men want to
work and nearly three-fourths have at least a high school education and
past work experience.

As these examples show, creating supportive housing will prove to be
effective, break the cycle of homelessness and help people regain their
sense of dignity and self-worth.

As business people, we weigh costs and benefits every day. Two-thirds of
the cost for developing and operating supportive housing is already in the
system and will be redirected, leaving $14 million to be raised from a
variety of public and private sources.

That is a price well worth paying to improve our community.

This ambitious vision for a housing system in Central Ohio can only be
achieved if the business community, political leadership and public
agencies work collaboratively to make it happen. Development along the
river has provided this community with a historic opportunity. The business
community can play an important role in this endeavor to make sure everyone
benefits from Columbus' growth.

Bill Bennett is vice chairman of Bank One, NA - Columbus, and is a member
of the Scioto Peninsula Relocation Task Force.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

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