A new report by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office just added to the growing body of literature showing that the most cost-effective way of tackling homelessness is simply giving housing to homeless people.
The study monitored the well-being and expenses of more than 1,800 homeless adults in San Francisco for three years before and after they entered housing programs and found that the improvements for the study participants (and the city’s budget) were staggering. After some initial increases in expenses–primarily as a result of these individuals receiving medical care for the first time in years–the overall costs to the city plummeted by 56 percent between 2011 and 2015, saving San Francisco around $35 million.
The report found myriad reasons for the sharp drop in cost, and many of those factors also demonstrated just how effective these housing programs can be in assisting the homeless. For example, once the individuals in the study were placed in stable housing, they were much less likely to visit the emergency room because they were better able to procure preventative medical services and routine check-ups.
The benefits of this particular shift were significant for the city not only because preventative medicine is much more cost-effective than relying on emergency rooms, but also because the new costs were largely covered by federal and state programs. The people who took part in the study were significantly more likely than the general homeless population to enroll in programs like Medi-Cal– California’s Medicaid program.
Improved nutrition could have played a role in the study participants’ declining medical expenses as well, as those individuals were also much more likely to utilize CalFresh, a state program which assists low-income residents with purchasing food.
However, the most significant source of savings may have come from the reduction in costs associated with jailing the homeless. San Francisco’s jail expenses plummeted by 64 percent during the time period covered in the study, falling from $1.6 million to just $580,000.
The report is very good news for San Francisco, as the city is currently trying to figure out how to fix its increasingly serious problem with homelessness. A survey found that in one night in 2015, there were nearly 6,700 homeless people living in San Francisco. The same survey found that there were about 6,400 homeless individuals in the city two years before, in 2013.
Fortunately, if the report issued by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office is correct, then the most straightforward approach to solving this humanitarian crisis may also prove to be a boon to the city’s budget. The study’s authors point out that since the costs associated with homelessness are so great, the city’s taxpayers could ultimately save millions just by ensuring that homeless people have adequate access to housing.