Should we end homelessness?

December 13, 2012


It costs American taxpayers approximately $633 million to house each chronically homeless individual through the shelter system, hospitals and other short-term housing institutions. Additional factors nearly double the total spent on the homeless to nearly $1.5 billion.


Homelessness has become a more frequently discussed topic over the past decade, and justifiably so.


Policy makers and activists alike have been suggesting ways to either decrease the number of homeless people on the street or end it all together. The biggest problem these politicians and activists face is the American attitude.


Many of us are often reluctant to put forth any of our hard-earned money if we are not the ones who benefit from it, and if we do, there has to be some serious circumstances attached to the cause we are donating to.


Michael Zakaras, a contributing writer for Forbes, said when it comes to homelessness, we do not think to help those on the streets unless they are put there by some natural disaster in his column “What Hurricane Sandy can teach us about homelessness.”


Many will argue it would just cost us more money to help the homeless. Others may even take the argument further to justify their reluctance to help because the homeless do not want to help themselves.


According to an article in USA Today written by Marisol Bello, cities, states and the federal government pay more to provide short-term housing and services like shelters than it would cost to rent apartment housing for the homeless.


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated 633, 782 people rely on the shelter system.


It costs between $500 and $1000 to house an individual in the shelter system compared to a maximum of $600 in an apartment. The cost to keep a family in a shelter is between $1000 and $3500 compared to a maximum of $1500 per family in an apartment.


If we go with the second option and put the homeless in apartments, it would cost $380 million per homeless individual. Even adding on any additional factors, the total would theoretically still be less than $1 billion.


The conclusion: it costs more to keep people on the streets than to provide them with a home.


Zakaras said this should only drive us to be more willing to help the homeless, and he has sound logic.


Many campaigns have come about because of realizations such as these.


The nationwide campaign 100,000 Homes is quickly picking up speed after starting earlier this year and is pushing to have participating cities house 100,000 homeless by July 2014. Participants work to provide homes by analyzing data, matching supply with demand, and increasing communication within the communities they work with.


We are often quick to judge those who live on the streets as people who have let themselves get to that point and are unwilling to help themselves out of the situation.


At the very least, we should acknowledge the other causes of homelessness: mental illness, veterans without a home, extreme poverty—not every homeless person ends up on the streets because of drugs and a life of crime.


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