The Cost of Homelessness

The Campaign to End Child Homelessness, an initiative of The National Center on Family Homelessness, is at the forefront of the battle to ensure stable housing and well-being for families and children. The National Center is a well known source of state-of-the-art research in this field.

Between the Great Depression and the 1980s, family homelessness was nearly non-existent. Since the ’80s it has become epidemic. Organizations like the National Center are vital for helping us acquire the best possible information from which to proceed.

Speaking of information, their new brief covers a subject we bring up frequently here on the blog: the cost of homelessness. Let’s take a look at these latest numbers, shall we?

Emergency shelters provide temporary housing for people who have no other place to stay. For families with children, however, emergency shelters are often more expensive than permanent supportive housing.

• Emergency shelter beds funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Shelter Grant Program cost approximately $8,000 more than the average annual cost of a Section 8 Housing Certificate.
• The prevalence rate of childhood foster care among children experiencing homelessness is 34 times the childhood foster care prevalence rate among all U.S. children.18 The adjusted marginal cost associated with foster care is $60,422/child annually.

Health and Mental Health Care
Emergency rooms are often the primary place where families experiencing homelessness go to receive health care. Lack of regular preventive care results in repeated emergency room visits, higher rates of hospitalization, and more costly treatment.

• Hospital stays for people experiencing homelessness average four days longer than their stably housed peers, for an additional cost of approximately $2,414 per stay.
• By the age of 12, 83 percent of children experiencing homelessness have been exposed to at least one violent event. These children are 15 percent more likely to need mental health services to recover from the impact of trauma when compared to their peers. The average annual cost for mental health services for children is $2,865 per episode.

Children experiencing homelessness have higher drop-out rates than their stably housed peers. Only one in four students who have experienced homelessness graduate from high school.

• Students who drop out of high school earn on average $200,000 less over their lifetime than high school graduates.
• The net lifetime contributions lost to society after accounting for the costs that would be incurred to improve education are $127,000 per non-graduating student.

There you have it, more clear cut numbers that show how much public money is getting squandered. That alone should be enough of an argument– even for those whose compassion is not engaged on the subject. Even the most “business only” perspective must accede that the bottom line demands action.

One reason that we focus on the cost angle so much is because of all the budget tightening going on across the country. While things are improving, there are still misguided politicians pushing short-term cuts that produce massive long-term debt. Many of the measures we endorse may be slightly higher in up-front costs, but they produce massive savings that increase the longer they are in effect.

There are people on both sides of the political aisle who get it wrong, and people on both sides who get it right. It is not a partisan issue. Just look at the numbers I shared above; they are simple facts and non-partisan by nature.

It is far more expensive to do nothing!

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