The fourth most conservative state in the nation, Utah, is defying traditional notions of “welfare as handouts” and “wasted, unearned money for moochers,” by giving free homes to the homeless. In doing so, it has not only reduced homelessness over the last decade by 74 percent (yes – you read that right) from around 1,800 to 500, but it has also saved money in state services that otherwise would have needed to be paid.
The program works by first putting people in permanent housing, such as an apartment, or an old hotel, that is then renovated and redesigned into apartments. Each person must pay 30 percent of his or her income every month if they have a job, and only $50 a month if the person is unemployed. This has not only taken people off the streets, but has reduced dependency on state services such as emergency health care, jail time, and police time. The chronically homeless can cost a community anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 a year, but when they are housed it drops the cost to $8,000-$9,000 per person, including case management.
The program first started in Utah in 2005 under the Republican administration of Gov. Jon Huntsman but has ties to the “Housing First” initiative originally began in New York by Clinical psychologist Sam Tsemberis. His program received a lot of attention by Republican governors around the country because it ultimately saved money. A lot of taxpayer money at that.
When Utah officials added up the amount going into medical treatment and law enforcement, the cost to the state per homeless individual was more than $216,300 a year in 2007 dollars, according to Housing Works. The cost of housing, rent assistance, and full-time case management, meanwhile, was just $19,500.
In 2008, as part of then president elect Barack Obama’s homeless agenda, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requested each county in the United States submit a 10-year proposal on how they plan to fight homelessness in their communities.
Other cities and states around the country have been employing similar strategies with equal success. This just proves the model works and should be adopted in more places nationwide.
In San Francisco, they found that placing the homeless in permanent housing reduced emergency visits by more than half. And, in 2006 the Denver Housing First Collaborative showed there was a 34 percent reduction in ER costs, while inpatient overnight visits declined a whopping 80 percent. Conservative Wyoming has it’s own “Housing First” program, as well, and in Florida it shows that taxpayers end up spending less housing the homeless than doing nothing about it. Each chronically homeless person in Central Florida costs the community roughly $31,000 a year,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Still, even with the data overwhelmingly in favor of taking a pro-active approach, some consider it “big government,” and just refuse to accept the idea of giving away something to someone who did not work for it. In fact, this completely throws social conservative thinking about welfare out the window.
Tsemberis said in 2012:
There is an implicit assumption that because that person is homeless, it is [due to] something about them. Perhaps they didn’t work hard enough or what had been given to them had been squandered.
Lyoyd Pendleton, director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force, admittedly used to agree with this. He used to tell homeless people, that they were “lazy” and just needed to “find work.” But, after gaining experience with the underlying problems in most of the cases, he decided to forget about this out-dated conservative approach, and go with what works.
These are my brothers and sisters. When they’re hurting, we’re hurting as a community. We’re all connected.
You can watch a short media segment on the issue here:
H/T: Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition | Featured Image: cenlahomeless.org