The cost of homelessness

For the first time in years, I forked out a toonie to buy the Vancouver Sun this past Saturday. It must have been a guest editor for Easter or something because the banner headline screamed:

The Cost of Homelessness: BC spends $644 million a year on services for those on the street. A study says the same amount would buy supported housing for all.

And then, under the fold, a story about early learning and child care, and a provincial proposal under study to make full-day kindergarten for five-year olds, expanding to four-year olds, then three-year olds (more on this in a seperate post).

The homelessness story is most welcome. Here’s a taste from the Sun (full study here):

The study estimated that 50 to 70 per cent of homeless people are dually diagnosed, in that they suffer from both a mental illness and a drug addiction.

The estimated annual cost of $55,000 per homeless person takes into consideration the high risk of infectious diseases. The study says some individuals can be slow to accept treatment because they don’t recognize their mental illness, and may circulate through the court system because of a need to get drugs and food.

The study argues that if housing and support were offered to these people, it would cost the system much less – just $37,000 a year. The report calculated that a capital investment of $784 million is needed to provide adequate housing to the 11,750 homeless people, and a further $148 million per year is required for housing-related support services.

But the study argues that after removing what the province is paying for health care, jail and shelters, and by spreading the capital costs out over several years, taxpayers could ultimately stand to save nearly $33 million annually.

My only quibble is that this we at the CCPA have been making this point for several years. It has also been made on this blog (here, here and here). And the study really just replicates the findings of a similar study done in 2001, also for the BC government.

Will this new one lead to action? Money certainly is not the issue. The provincial government ran a $4 billion surplus last year, and over the past four budgets (including the current fiscal year) the total surplus is about $12 billion. The provincial government in 2007 tabled a rhetorical “housing budget” that shows they are aware of the issue and public concern, but that did almost nothing to alleviate the problem. The only conclusion I come up with is that they do not care; they just are not going to move on housing the homeless much less any broader affordable housing strategy. But hope springs eternal – perhaps this time will be different.

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