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180/180 Good, But Not Enough
Are homes and services for homeless folks cheaper than police, jails, courts and hospitals?
180/180 Good, But Not Enough
By Casey Livingood
The 180/180 program--in lieu of the national 100,000 Homes Campaign--is helping the 180 most chronic homeless in Santa Cruz County find housing. But let's be real: there are 2700 folks without houses in Santa Cruz County. While everyone is focusing on housing 180 people in 2 years (the goal is to house them by July of 2014), the other 2520 are still wandering the street. Granted, at this rate, it would take 15 years to house the entire 2700 folks without houses.
Phil Kramer, Project Manager of 180/180, is asking individuals, churches, community and civic groups, schools and any other organization “to pledge $1,000 for move-in costs, something that is not covered by any government subsidy or support program.”
In a study in Los Angeles that came out in 2009--the inspiration behind 180/180--they found that housing the chronic homeless is 5 times less expensive than the drain on public services and resources (http://www.180santacruz.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/last-study-exec-summary-table1.bmp).
But this is not a new idea. This study is “just one of 60+ studies that have been done researching the cost effectiveness of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) compared with the costly usage of emergency services,” Kramer says.
A 2001 study conducted in New York shows that housing the chronic homeless person is cheaper than the drain on public services and resources, but not to the extent of the Los Angeles study. This study shows that, on average, “the homeless mentally ill person in New York City uses $40,449 of publicly funded services over the course of a year. Once placed into service-enriched housing, a homeless mentally ill individual reduces their use of publicly funded services by $16,282 per year”(http://shnny.org/uploads/NY-NY_Agreement_Cost_Study_2001.pdf). It is only 1.7 times less expensive in this study.
However, I believe these figures are vastly conservative. What these studies don't take into account is the immense amount of resources utilized by various Police Departments to patrol the streets and ticket the homeless for crimes; crimes such as sitting, panhandling, sleeping, loitering, smoking, trespassing (on public property), etc.
Daniel Flamer, co-author of the 2009 Los Angeles study, elucidates “City departments such as police were not included. It is very hard to get agencies to agree to these record linkages.” Furthermore, “quite a bit of public money is spent on police encounters with homeless persons, but this was outside the scope of our record linkage.”
According to Zach Friend, the Crime Analyst for the Santa Cruz Police Department, “In [the City of] Santa Cruz, problems related to the homeless accounted for 39 percent of the Police Department's 10,000 documented cases in 2011 […] that figure represents calls where the suspect or victims identified themselves as transients or listed the Santa Cruz Homeless Services Center as their address.” (http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_20606698/broadway-neighbors-hold-memorial-shannon-collins)
But isn't it more complicated than just reducing police expenditures? Because, in a way, our economy depends on it. Ryan Coonerty, a Santa Cruz City Council member, reiterates “Our jobs and tax base relies on people having a good experience here. We are competing with private malls (Capitola, Santana Row), the internet, and other regions. Studies show that the first thing that shoppers require is a sense of safety.” However, the aforementioned studies show that PSH and actual services for homeless folks is not only cheaper, but more humane and efficient for creating shopper safety than services applied by police, courts, jails and hospitals.
If we calculate 39 percent of the funding the Santa Cruz Police Department received in 2011 ($22.8 million), we find ourselves spending $8.9 million on the homeless just by the Police Department alone.
Since there is 1,070 homeless folks in the City of Santa Cruz, that is over $8,000 per person. All in all, 180/180 is good, but not enough. As my friend would say: "What if I was 181?"