Homelessness Can Be Solved. The Problem Is That We Consider Housing To Be A Privilege.


I’ve seen firsthand the psychological and physical toll being homeless takes on individuals. The people worried about where they’re going to sleep at night and where their next meal is coming from. To be homeless is to suffer, and for that reason alone, the homeless deserve our compassion and support.

But let’s throw those things aside.

Let’s set aside any arguments grounded in pathos. Let’s evaluate homelessness only on its financial implications on our society. Take it in terms of pure, cold, hard cash – is it still expensive? How much do you think it costs the taxpayers each year, on average, to have a single person homeless?

$35,000 – $150,000 per year, according to a study conducted by Philip Mangano, homelessness policy czar under George W. Bush.

That takes into account ER visits, jail time, hospital stays, shelters, and a variety of other taxpayer-funded services that homeless people use. We’re spending this kind of money to keep people on the streets, when we could simply buy them housing for far less than that – and connect them with social workers and medical attention – preventative care could cut down on as much as 80% of homeless ER visits, per GreenDoors. The average cost of providing housing? $13,000 to $25,000 per year according to Mangano, which means at a minimum savings of $10,000 per year per person.

Solving homelessness is within our reach. It turns out that the simple, obvious solution – simply giving them homes – is also the best one, both in terms of addressing the problem and reducing expenditures. It makes sense from both a humanitarian and financial standpoint.

The only reason anyone could have to oppose this is from a philosophical standpoint. I’ve heard plenty of stereotypes about the homeless, that they’re lazy, that they don’t want to work, that they deserve their station in life. It’s true that many homeless people have made mistakes that have contributed to their homelessness – alcohol and drug abuse are common. It’s also true that a few people don’t want to work, and will simply game the system.

But they are in the minority. I’ve seen firsthand – most homeless people want to improve their lives. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 87.4% want to work – it’s just that they don’t have a job that pays them enough, or they can’t find a job – according to the Coalition, 65% have a mental illness, disability, or other health issues that significantly impede their ability to work. Should these people be punished simply because someone else might be too lazy to look for a job? When a factually unfounded worldview causes unnecessary human suffering, isn’t it time to start questioning it?

If we truly want homeless people to become productive members of society, then they need a little help. Yes, sometimes homeless people manage to find a way out of their situation, but not all of them do, and it’s partially dependent on luck – hard work alone won’t get it done. You can try to argue that homeless people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but most homeless people I’ve known don’t have boots, or straps – metaphorical or otherwise.

Housing should be a right, not a privilege. Nobody should have to suffer the indignity of being without a home. Providing permanent supportive housing to the homeless is the right thing to do, morally and financially, and I hope you will join me in calling for our elected officials to do something about it. We can end one of the great scourges of our time, if only we can summon the will.

image – Flickr / born1945