In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell published an article in the New Yorker entitled “Million Dollar Murray.” The day to day life of a man named Murray, who lived on the streets of Reno, Nevada, was recorded. Gladwell calculated that Murray’s time spent in prison, his stays in homeless shelters, his visits to emergency rooms, and his stays in hospitals, added up to well over a million dollars in only ten years.
A similar study was published in Canada in 2016. It was in the medical journal BMC Health Services Research, and was titled, “A 10 year retrospective analysis of hospital admissions and length of stay among a cohort of homeless adults in Vancouver, Canada.” This study recruited participants as part of an experimental trial. It kept comprehensive records of data like acute hospitalizations.
The results show that 80% of the participants were hospitalized. Of that percentage of people hospitalized, they had an average of 6 hospital admissions, and 71.4 days per person, during the 10 year observation period. The Canadian Institute for Health Information puts the cost of a standard hospital stay at $6,060.
Simply providing someone with a home won’t solve any underlying issues of mental illness or drug abuse, additional supports would be required to help in those areas. But even without any additional interventions, appropriately addressing housing needs for homeless people would dramatically reduce the existing degree of costly and preventable hospitalization of people experiencing homelessness, and thus lower the healthcare costs for the province.
On April 11th 2018, End Homelessness St. John’s conducted its second biennial point-in-time count of the city’s homeless population. The resulting report, Everyone Counts, provided a snapshot of the minimum number of people experiencing homelessness on a single day in St. John’s. On that day, 165 people were homeless, 63 were provisionally accommodated, while 102 were absolutely homeless.
The End Homelessness St. John’s Everyone Counts final report 2018 also included a list of per month costs associated with public systems used to temporarily house people who are experiencing homelessness. Hospital: $10,900, Rental supplement: $701, Shelter bed: $1,932, Provincial Jail: $4,333, and finally Social housing: $200.
The cost of utilizing public systems such as hospitals or prisons to house individuals, as we all can see, is significantly higher than providing community supports and programs such as social housing.
In the 2018 Vital Signs report, we heard from Erica Norman, program coordinator for Choices for Youth. “Many of the youth who come to Choices for Youth have experienced family breakdown, but that seems even more common for LGBTQ2S+ youth, and in particular trans youth.
When young people are not accepted by all or by some of their family they can experience high rates of mental health issues which are brought on or made worse by bullying, rejection, segregation, and isolation. For many of these youth in rural areas of the province, moving to St. John’s becomes a way to escape the bullying and isolation and to access critical supports.”
Of those experiencing homelessness in St. John’s, 64% have migrated to St. John’s from around Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere.
Erica continued: “Of course, even when they arrive in St. John’s navigating and finding appropriate and empowerment-based supports can be a challenge, especially if they have experienced trauma and abuse.”
Choices For Youth, and similar youth-focused organizations work within a critical window of time. Despite their trauma, these are the lives which are most easily set right. The most gain for the least cost is to be found here. Instead of living a hard life of torment for 60 plus years, they can be empowered and save our Province an incredible amount of money at the same time. This is in everyone’s best interest.
It cost Reno, Nevada over a million dollars to keep Murray living on the street for 10 years. It costs Vancouver over $432,684 in acute hospital care alone for every homeless person every 10 years. The State of Homelessness reports that the annual cost of homelessness to the Canadian economy is $7.05 Billion every year.
If those experiencing homelessness in St. John’s are in any way similar to the rest of North America, than it would be cheaper to buy each and every one of them a new house every 10 years than to leave them on the streets.
Whether you think government should spend as little as possible, or you think government should be providing the most comprehensive system of social safety nets, there is acreage of common ground. Everyone can agree that homelessness is a luxury we cannot afford.