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Applying The Puritan Work Ethic Is Gonna Cost Ya
While I am not for giving the ordinary lazy person charity, even if you absolutely hate the homeless and snarl at people who ask you for money, the fact remains that it's cheaper to give addicts and mentally ill people on skid row a roof over their heads...à la the "drunk bunks" in Seattle. Philip F. Mangano and Gary Blasi write for the LA Times:

The numbers of homeless people on the streets of Miami, Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Denver, Portland, Ore., and 20 other cities have declined in the last several years.

What have they done that Los Angeles has not? Within the context of a strategic plan, framed around business principles, they have moved homeless people with serious mental disabilities or addictions directly into housing units that include access to mental health and recovery services. As a result, these cities have stopped cycling homeless people through shelters, emergency rooms and jails -- and, overall, are seeing cost savings. It turns out that what is more humane is also more economical.

When we add up the arrests, incarcerations, emergency medical care and other crisis interventions, the true costs of chronic homelessness are staggering: $35,000 to $150,000 per person per year. By contrast, the annual cost of supportive housing for a person with serious mental illness or addiction disease is between $13,000 and $25,000. And once stabilized, many can qualify for federal disability and health insurance or get jobs that will further reduce local costs.

...The good news is that there are field-tested plans that have worked in other cities that suffered years of frustration and failure. From New York's Times Square to San Francisco's Tenderloin district, you can see the results: The number of people on the streets is down, and the savings in ambulance runs, emergency rooms and jails are up. In these cities, experienced teams made up of mental health and addiction clinicians, housing specialists and formerly homeless people engage those people experiencing chronic homeless, with the intent of moving them rapidly into long-term housing, not emergency shelter. The police are restored to their law enforcement role, relieved of punitive approaches and quasi-social work.

Once housed and given appropriate support and services, formerly homeless people with mental and addiction disabilities -- those for whom we used to think a bowl of soup and a blanket was the best we could do -- have a good chance of staying off the streets. In cities using this strategy, there has been an average retention rate of 85%.

Sure, some lazy people will surely take advantage of this. But, while I'm a grinch about giving the average person a handout, there's a pretty vast difference between the average person and somebody sleeping on skid row. And, then, there's a big difference in how my own neighborhood smells when people are not squatting and pooping in the bushes across from my house.

Posted by aalkon at October 29, 2007 11:44 AM


there's a pretty vast difference between the average person and somebody sleeping on skid row.

Word. There was a woman I used to see on my way to work, at one of the Westport, CT exits off I-95, who used to stand there with a sign that said she was "homeless". While she was dressed pretty shabbily, and looked like she had been ridden hard and put away wet, she had a better manicure than mine. Needless to say, she never got a freakin' dime off of me, but I'd see guys in Beemers and Saabs pass her $10 & $20 bills; sometimes women too. Coupla times I'd see a guy there with the exact same sign! He'd be wearing Nike Air Jordans, but otherwise pretty shabby-looking clothes. It was so obvious to me that they were a couple supporting their crack habit that I wanted to choke the other people who were actually giving them money, but then I thought, heh. it's their money and if they want to give it losers to make themselves feel better, they can go for it. o_O

Posted by: Flynne at October 29, 2007 6:24 AM

So you're a pragmatist, huh? That's good; just don't get fanatical about it.

If the pragmatic approach doesn't work, try something else.

Posted by: Axman at October 29, 2007 6:29 AM

I dunno if you could call me a pragmatist, although I guess I am, to an extent. I'm usually inconsistent, but not all the time. o_O

Posted by: Flynne at October 29, 2007 6:47 AM

"If the pragmatic approach doesn't work, try something else."


Posted by: Shawn at October 29, 2007 6:52 AM

Such a nit of mine. I watch people wander the trains, begging and making out like bandits, all the time. Tempting (not really) to quit working and work the MAX.

What really gets to me, is the group of homeless, who are in recovery. They walk the trains with trays of candy bars for sale. They also have the worse time of it. People will happily give the bums money, but the guys that actually want to give something back for what they get, fuck 'em.

I took one of them to lunch one day. Great kid, nineteen, bipolar and recovering substance abuser. Been clean for a few months, just trying to get by. Makes an average of ten bucks a day. I see asshole bums get that in less than ten minutes. I mentioned this to him and he knows this is the case. But he can't bring himself to just beg.

Posted by: DuWayne at October 29, 2007 9:58 AM

Yes, there are some swindlers out there, but I think there are also people who are out there we should help, both because it's cheaper if we do, and because it's the civilized thing to do. It's like not walking past an old lady who's slipped and fallen.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 29, 2007 10:09 AM

Since I've had trouble posting links in comments lately, look for a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell, called "Million Dollar Murray," from the 2/13/06 issue. It basically describes why it might be that concentrating resources on a few chronic homeless people can make economic sense even if it doesn't seem particularly equitable.

Posted by: Jessica at October 29, 2007 12:59 PM

Is this rehousing voluntary? And how long do people stay? The NYT always seems surprised that while their own city's homeless numbers drop in winter, number rise in Las Vegas.

I'm not snarking, I'm just curious. I live fairly close to 7th St., and most of those folks don't look like housing is a big priority.

Posted by: KateCoe at October 29, 2007 4:59 PM

So basically, the new theory is that the chronically homeless can be helped by re-institutionalization? I'm shocked, SHOCKED that the mentally ill might be better off and less expensive to treat if they're housed in institutions. SHOCKED.

Posted by: marion at October 29, 2007 7:03 PM

I am living in an area of Montreal who is literally infested with beggars and homeless people. I can just hope for such an initiative here.

Posted by: Toubrouk at October 29, 2007 7:43 PM

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