Updated: Apr 7
Homelessness is expensive – to ignore. The cost burden of unresolved homelessness spreads across multiple sectors. If we don’t address homelessness effectively, we will continue to pay enormous costs in terms of both social issues and economic hardship.
How expensive is homelessness?
In 2006 The New Yorker ran the article Million-Dollar Murray by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Gladwell tells the story of Murray Barr, a homeless alcoholic veteran in Reno, Nevada.
“It cost us one million dollars not to do something about Murray,” Police Officer O’Bryan told Gladwell. That cost came in the form of medical bills, interactions with law enforcement, and rehab programs.
The interesting thing about Murray was that when he was being monitored he was successful at reintegrating into society. However, whenever he hit that successful marker he was sent out on his own with the hopes he would do better.
Murray is one of many who is chronically homeless. He is loved and cared for with warm blankets, hot food, and encouragement to do and be better by those in the community.
When under care he maintained a job, saved money, and contributed to his community.
However, the stabilized individual care or monitoring that this marine needed was simply not available and when there was no one to take responsibility he fell into overwhelm and right back into his vices.
Murray spent over a decade on the streets of Reno before dying and leaving those who loved him wondering if they could have done more.
The social, and human, cost of not providing this veteran with the structure he needed was far greater than the funding of necessary services would have been.
Here in Tampa, we have friends living on the streets of downtown Tampa who are not unlike Murray. We've watched helplessly as they've struggled with vices and found victory, only to then be released back onto the streets where those same temptations await them.
Our personalized care plans take this into account. Long-term monitoring and structure is necessary for many of our friends. But without the funds and a physical location to house them, we struggle to provide the stability required in order to thrive.
Understanding the cost of homelessness
The average taxpayer carries the burden of homelessness. The costs of homelessness are spent across multiple sectors such as:
Healthcare - Homeless individuals develop significant health problems and have higher rates of emergency room usage
Social Assistance - The unhoused suffer from higher rates of unemployment and lower-income that requires them to seek social assistance to survive
Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice System - Individuals experiencing homelessness are arrested at much higher rates than their housed counterparts for a variety of offenses such as public intoxication, trespassing, solicitation, and sleeping in parks or on public property
"Nearly one-third of all visits to the emergency room are made by people struggling with chronic homelessness." GreenDoors
The homeless seek out emergency care for a variety of preventable and treatable health conditions including chronic health conditions and multiple psychosocial risk factors, like mental illness and substance use disorders. Add to this that they do not have a social support system and any treatments that are prescribed have a low chance of being applied or sustained and the entire process becomes a revolving door.
On average an unhoused individual will visit the ER five times a year, some weekly. Not only does homelessness cause health problems, "homeless people have higher rates of chronic health problems than the general population. This takes the form of higher rates of illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and HIV disease" (Dr. Margot Kushel, Associate Professor of Medicine in Residence, UCSK/ SF General Hospital). According to GreenDoors report, 80% of emergency room visits made by people struggling with homelessness are for an illness that could have been treated with preventative care.
At the Bautista Project, we work directly with individuals undergoing cancer treatments, malnourishment, arthritis, substance abuse, mental illness, autoimmune disorders, and more.
We do our best to provide them with their specific dietary and hygiene needs but could do so much more with the right resources - and if we could help monitor their recovery and care in a facility rather than on a street corner, in an alleyway, or at a bus stop.
If we don’t solve homelessness, it will continue to cost us significantly more than it would to make our communities healthy and safe for everyone. Solving homelessness would cost a fraction of what it currently costs to maintain the status quo.
Central Florida Case Study
In Central Florida, a cohort of 107 homeless individuals was created to calculate the cost of maintaining their unhoused status. The annual average cost of homelessness and cycling in and out of incarceration, emergency rooms, and inpatient hospitalizations came to $31,065 per person per year - in 2014. The full report can be read at https://shnny.org/uploads/Florida-Homelessness-Report-2014.pdf
Over a ten-year period, those same 107 people cost taxpayers an average of $33,239,553. And this is on the low end of the national average. Other studies have found that "leaving a person to remain chronically homeless costs taxpayers as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per year" per person.
But that's not the biggest number to pay attention to!
The cost savings of providing permanent supportive housing to just 50% of the chronic homeless population in Central Florida, according to SHNNY's cohort, would save taxpayers a minimum of $149,220,414.
How Companies & Brands Can Help Reduce the Cost of Homelessness
For many companies and brands, affordable housing may seem like an issue far removed from their daily operations. But in reality, many businesses have a vested interest in taking action to end homelessness and make housing more affordable for everyone.
Housing plays a critical role in virtually every business sector:
A lack of affordable housing makes it harder for employees to find jobs—and keep them.
Inadequate shelter impacts employee productivity, as well as turnover. Employees who don’t have stable living situations are unable to dedicate 100% of their time and energy to their work.
Inadequate housing impacts how employees feel: they are more likely to feel stressed, anxious, and depressed.
Sleep deprivation and chronic health problems like asthma or diabetes, tend to disproportionately affect people experiencing homelessness.
Pay a living wage
In Tampa, the cost of living is far higher than the wages being earned.
The average rent for a studio apartment right now (January 24, 2022) is $1,762, a 32% increase from this time last year. An individual should only be using 30% of his or her income towards housing. This means to rent a studio apartment annual salary should be around $63,432 or higher (ApartmentList.com). To rent a studio apartment in Tampa an individual would need to be working full time and bringing in $31.72 per hour.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average median household income in Tampa is $53,833, which is $26.92 an hour full-time.
We have a number of friends who are senior citizens and living on the streets who currently work for minimum wage at $10 an hour.
Brands that desire to strengthen our economy and put people first should be investing in those individuals by providing them liveable wages.
If you are already investing in the wages of the individuals who work for your company and would like to do more reach out!
Redirect marketing to social impact strategies
We would love to discuss ways you can partner with the Bautista Project and leverage your social impact to reach a wider audience. With today's consumers turning towards brands that value people before profit more than ever before, it might just be time to redirect a portion of your marketing budget into nonprofits like ours. (Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in taking the next step)
One simple way to leverage your social impact is by joining us in our annual 10 Mile Walk this year on October 10th, World Homeless Day. This event raises funding for our organization as well as awareness of what a day in the life of a homeless individual looks like. Most people are not aware that on average they walk 10 miles a day.
Investing in Affordable Housing - A Financial Return on Investment?
Right now taxpayers are handing over millions of dollars per year to a never-ending cycle of crisis services with no gain to the community as a whole. Creating solutions and investing in affordable housing is MUCH more cost-effective than continuing with the same ineffective strategies.
By creating sustainable and affordable housing, and continuing personalized supportive care to those who need it (like Murray), our local community will see a net return on investment worth millions of dollars.
But what's closer to our heart than the financial ROI, is the social value and restoration it will bring to our communities. Chronically homeless individuals who today do not see a way forward or out of their situation will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.