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Sheltering L.A. County's homeless could save taxpayer money, study finds

October 13, 2009 | 11:41 am

Finding permanent housing for Los Angeles County's homeless population rather than allowing them to continue living on the streets could save taxpayer money, according to a study released today by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The four-year study followed four homeless people while they lived on the streets and later as they found stable housing. Researchers concluded that taxpayers could save $20,000 a year per person in public services. There were an estimated 73,000 homeless in L.A. County last year.

Elise Buik, president and chief executive of the local United Way, said they also looked at other cities that have reduced homelessness and found that permanent housing was the key.

“We always need to be very prudent with our public dollars, and for legislators to see this is a cost-effective model helps build the case that this is an effective model,” Buik said.

The study followed four chronically homeless people: A 52-year-old white woman, a 58-year-old white man, a 32-year-old Latino man and a 61-year-old black man. It took into account drug abuse, physical health, mental health, criminal justice and housing.

Once they were placed in stable housing, they each became less dependent on public services. Emergency room visits went from 19 among all of them to one, and rehab stints went from six total to none, according to the study. Incarcerations were eliminated, the study found.

“Once you find them housing, they do lead stable lives,” Buik said. “One of the things we’re trying to do is take away the stigma and show that people can go on to lead productive lives.”

-- Raja Abdulrahim

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