The math is supposed to be simple.
Thirty-four of the most frequent homeless users of San Diego’s emergency services cost taxpayers and hospitals $4.3 million in responses to 911 calls and other public safety needs in 2010. Take those same people, put them in a house, give them preventative medical care and access to round-the-clock case workers, and the costs drop to $2.2 million in 2013.
That’s a savings to the public of more than $2 million last year.
This was the promise of Project 25, a much-heralded, three-year pilot program funded by the local chapter of the United Way to help some of the most chronic users of San Diego’s emergency services. The idea was that if you take these people off the streets, you can give them a better life and save a lot of money in the process.
Project 25’s data show that the program worked. But now its three years of United Way funding are up, and Project 25’s leaders haven’t found anyone willing to pay to extend it. Most of the program’s employees are moving to other jobs and the money will officially run out in June.
Marc Stevenson, the head of Project 25, said it would be a shame if the program went away. Local emergency medical officials have identified another 25 mega-users of the health care system who would benefit from the same approach. They won’t get the help they need, and the community won’t get the savings, unless Stevenson can find the roughly $930,000 it costs to run the program each year. (Project 25’s savings numbers include this up-front cost.)
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Handouts only add to the growing homeless population in our city. The more you give, the more they will take, and they will come from other cities that don't give as we do, and you will never get ahead of this growing problem. It will only get worse. It's not going to happen over night, but the sooner you stop giving, the sooner the takers will migrate to where services/handouts are. Get San Diego off of that list. Public service costs and expensive hospital services should not continue to be provided for those who don't care enough about themselves to care for themselves. Personal accountabilty and responsibility needs to be a bigger part of society for it to thrive. Trying to provide our way out of our growing homeless problem will never yield a net positive for our city. Cut the cord.
For folks that want to see a realistic presentation of what Project 25 faces in trying to help these folks they should look at the movie "The Soloist" It is the true story of a schizophrenic homeless person who lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles. As recently as last month, his disease is still causing him problems with remaining voluntarily in an apartment. His story has been followed by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. This is a link to his columns about Mr. Ayers' struggles and the struggles of the homeless providers to help him. http://www.latimes.com/search/dispatcher.front?Query=nathaniel+ayers&target=all.
The closure of the state's mental hospitals is a primary source of the chronic homeless problem.
Homelessness is a symptom of a larger problem. It happens because...
1. We make paying less a priority, which works unless we're the ones being paid so little we can't afford even the cheapest food and places to live.
2. We treat health care as if it's a privilege, and forget that people are more likely to contribute to the economy when they're healthy.
3. We've separated mental illness and substance abuse from other health issues and made them taboo, which makes it harder for people to get help and maintain the network of social relationships that most of us depend on in times of need.
4. We treat people who are homeless as faceless victims, villains, and objects of charity, not as people whose conditions we can treat and - if we're smart - try to prevent in the first place.
Regardless of what money may have been saved in hospitals and police departments - these 34 people were no longer making a nuisance of themselves on the streets. That means that San Diego became an even more pleasant place to live work and vacation. And that translates into an increase in tourism, businesses locating here and bringing their employees with them. And that means more money for local coffers in increased tax revenue.
@voiceofsandiego every single supporter of free housing should read this right now and take a lesson
I propose that the funds raised to save the opera are transferred to this Project.
Aria in the Alley
Well Mark, "institutionalizing" is kind of what this program is doing. It costed $2.2M to house the first 34 people for 3 years. It'll cost something similar to house the next 25. Eventually, over time, it'll cost $XXM to house hundreds of homeless folks and keep them off the streets. The theory is that this program will cost less to society than not doing anything at all. So, your suggestion of a "third alternative" really is just this program.
They are being enabled and bleeding resources.
I do see your point of this being a form of "institutionalizing". In that light .........
The cost is 2.2 million a year for those 34 people. That works out to $67,647 and nothing changes.
Like I said its a bottomless cup. These people take disproportionate resources and should be removed from the streets.
It's true that housing these folks is costly. The program has shown, at least partially, this is less costly than doing nothing. The police and hospitals are freed up to deal with other crimes and patients. So far, this and other city's outreach attempts hasn't been all that successful in dealing with the homeless in a cost-effective manner. This pilot program appears to have done a better job at that. I'm not sure what program Mark Griffin refers to when he says, "removed from the streets." Is there a program that is more effective than this one and costs less?
I don't believe there is Mike and I doubt you can legally do it anyway.
My point is this. Enabling this is not a solution.
The best we can do is an expensive program like this that enables them to continue their bad habits into infinity with a disproportionate amount of resources taken from a limited pool of resources.
I think the people that fund these experiments realize the perpetual nature of this especially if it is expanded.
There needs to be a better way
Bottomless cups need to be constantly filled.
These 25 and the others that are taking too many resources need to be removed from society and institutionalized as a third alternative.
They are obviously a harm to themselves and to society.
There are no savings here. Just a double bind
I do wonder about the "savings". For example, police still get paid whether they're routing a vagrant or not. Hospitals are still open whether bums are in the beds or not. Ambulances are still billing whether they're transiting a drifter or not.
I'm not suggesting there isn't some savings, but it seems very difficult to quantify because most of these services (police, fireman, hospitals) have a fixed cost. By this I mean that if nothing catches on fire, we still must pay fireman and same with the other services.
I hear ya, Michael. The savings in this case are expressed in dollars...but are paid out in dollar-value-of-resources freed up for other purposes.
For instance, if a cop isn't giving a homeless drunk a ride to detox, then the cop is free to respond to other calls. The city still paid $84 in wages and benefits, plus the cost of equipment, for an hour of that cop's time...but the cop protected and served someone else....maybe you.
One less trip to the ER by a homeless person means hospital staff had more time to stitch up and x-ray my kid after he falls of his bicycle; the dividend is paid in shorter wait times in the ER, but expressed in dollars.
My friend Jim says the solution to the problem is to yell "get a job" out the car window at homeless addicts; he doesn't seem to understand that like it or not, taxpayers are stuck caring for people who can't/won't care for themselves. Until the Soylent Green program comes on-line, it would seem that Project 25 is worthwhile, even though the city's General Fund didn't show a $2 million dollar bump last year.
@Michael Robertson Hospitals staff based on census and acuity for each shift so number of patients does affect costs expended.
@Jim Jones Not true. I have worked in local hospitals, including in the EDs and they definitely staff to census. And some of those ED visits result in unit admits, which affect staffing on the units.