Myths of Homelessness: Part 3

Throughout our series on the myths of homelessness, we have addressed the myths that homelessness only happens downtown, and that those experiencing homelessness are only the mentally ill. We also tackled the myths that youth are on the streets because they’re rebellious and have run away from home and that for many, homelessness is a choice. This week we’re debunking the myth that it would be too much of a burden on taxpayers to provide homes for those experiencing homelessness.

Myth: It would be too much of a burden on taxpayers to provide homes for those experiencing homelessness

Reality: Providing housing will save taxpayers money long-term. The 2007 CRD Regional Housing Affordability Strategy showed that by providing basic housing, the region could save over $9.5 million annually. Basic housing works out to about $12,000 a year for each person. While this may seem like a high cost, housing offers a variety of benefits for those experiencing homelessness. Supported housing offers access to services that can improve the health and can also help them integrate into the working community.

Hospitalization, medical care, incarceration, and emergency shelter services make homelessness expensive for taxpayers. In a 2008 report from Homeless Hub, Cost Analysis of Homelessness, it’s estimated that it costs 33% more to provide health care, criminal justice and social services to a homeless person than to house an unemployed individual ($24,000 a year, compared to $18,000 a year). This is because those facing homelessness are more likely to contract serious health problems that often require long-term care. Oftentimes, due to housing instability, homelessness doesn’t allow for proper care needed to recuperate and treatment, leading to more hospital visits in the future.

In addition to health care costs, homelessness also increases costs to social services. In the Homeless Hub report, the daily costs of providing emergency services, such as shelters, healthcare and correctional facilities are compared to the costs of providing supported housing:

Emergency services for those experiencing homelessness roughly cost (per day):

  • A provincial correctional facility – $155-$250
  • Psychiatric hospital – $380 average
  • Emergency homeless shelter, which include temporary shelter, meals and services – $60-$85
  • Detox centers $80-$185
  • Mental health residential facilities – $140-$191

Supportive housing for the homeless (per day): 

  • Enhanced self-contained apartment with support on site – $67-$88
  • Self-contained apartment – mini-suite/bachelor – $14-$20
  • Self-contained apartment – no support – $25-$35

The proof is in the numbers: supporting people who are homeless costs more than housing them. While the initial costs of supportive housing might be pricey, the longer term savings more than justify the cost.

For more information: Myths of Homelessness: Part 1 and Part 2