Why Haven’t We Been Able to Solve the Homelessness Problem Yet?

In many local communities across the United States, elected officials and residents alike are apt to note that homelessness is one of the major problems in the city or town. With that said, and despite media focus being paid to the issue, homelessness remains a problem nearly everywhere that seems unsolvable. There are, in fact, of variety of reasons why we’ve not been able to effectively solve the homelessness problem in communities across the United States.

The Misconceptions of Cost

Many argue that the most significant reason why the homelessness problem has not yet been solved rests in rampant misconceptions about the costs associated with doing so. The argument is that the federal, state, and local levels of government don’t have the financial wherewithal to solve the homelessness problem without unduly burdening taxpayers.

This is the contention that many experts contend is based on a faulty evaluation of the costs associated with the expenses incurred by the community for each homeless person on the street versus the costs associated with providing a long-term housing solution. This point of contention is also where politics gets interjected into the issue, following a divide oftentimes along party lines.

Understanding these realities, turning to a study undertaken by the homeless policy czar during the administration of President George W. Bush is illuminating. Philip Mangano undertook a comprehensive fiscal examination of different types of expenditures associated with homelessness in the United States. The study revealed that the average annual cost to taxpayers for a single homeless person is between $35,000 and $150,000 annually.

The expenditures in support of a homeless individual includes expenses like:

  • Emergency room visits
  • Jail time
  • Hospital stays
  • Shelter use
  • Various taxpayer underwritten emergency services

The in-depth study by the Bush homeless policy indicates that the costs to provide housing for a homeless person runs between $13,000 and $25,000 annually. This equates to a minimum savings of $10,000 per year, and typically a good deal more. As was noted in regard to data developed from the study: “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.”

In the grand scheme of things, until the misconceptions of cost are broadly addressed, and political posturing is somehow eliminated from that process, the problem of homelessness in the United States will remain largely unresolvable.

Homeless People Lack Powerful Advocates

Stating that homeless people lack powerful advocates is not meant as an insult to those individuals, groups, and organizations that devote their time, energy, and money fighting to aid homeless women, men, and children. Nothing this, the situation nonetheless remains that when contrasted with other entities, those associated with homeless advocacy lack the same power, influence, and resources available to others.

When a group in society lacks powerful advocates, their issues tend to end up on a back burner if they make it the stove at all. Incarcerated people, including those who objectively speaking are serving unduly long prison terms, represent another society cohort that generally lacks powerful advocates.

Territorial Approach to Issues Surrounding Homelessness

Another reality is that in order to make progress towards solving the broader problem of homelessness in any city or town, residents and taxpayers of a community need to be brought into the process. The fact is that time and again, there is something akin to a territorial approach to issues surrounding homelessness and address the dilemma.

This territorial approach to issued surrounding homelessness can be seen in the positions taken by many people in the broader community. These individuals are left to conclude that many of the proposals put forth to address homelessness in their community will, be definition, hurt them. In other words, if something is done to aid or benefit the homeless in a community, that benefit must be countered by taking something or another away from the broader population in the community. This territorialism profoundly impacts the ability to move forward in finding lasting, meaningful solutions to the homeless problem.

Glimmers of Hope

Noting these challenges, there are glimmers of hope in one community after another across the United States when it comes to cooperative, innovative, and ultimately effective solutions to the homeless problem. For example, Los Angeles enacted what is known as Measure H, by majority vote of the residents of greater LA. Through this initiative, over $300 million is to be expended annually to facilitate permanent solutions for homeless people throughout the city and county.