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Housing the homeless is a bargain

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Services for chronically homeless cost more than providing housing, study says

It’s cheaper for the city of Albuquerque to house its homeless people than to provide them with the services they need while living on the streets, Mayor Richard Berry said Monday, announcing the findings of a University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research study released last week.

“For those who are chronically homeless, it is less expensive for us to get them into housing than to let them sleep under the underpass tonight,” he said.

For example, one Albuquerque homeless man made 83 calls for emergency services in the 90 days before the city placed him in a one-bedroom apartment earlier this year. The service calls cost taxpayers about $140,000, or enough money to pay his rent for 21 years.


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In 2013, on any given night, 1,170 Albuquerqueans are homeless, down from 1,639 people in 2011, according to Dayna Gardner, a spokeswoman for Berry.

“The most vulnerable individuals experiencing chronic homelessness tend to be the highest users of community services, such as emergency room visits, inpatient treatment services and outpatient treatment services . . . In many cases hospitals must provide acute services for preventable conditions which are exacerbated by the circumstances of homelessness,” according to the report, City of Albuquerque Heading Home Cost Study, released Sept. 20.

The study also found that more people flunked out of a program to help homeless people than were able to complete it and depend on themselves for housing.

The program, called Albuquerque Heading Home, began in January 2011. Between then and June of this year, 212 clients have enrolled, some along with their children.

Less than a quarter of them – 48 – participated in the study, which involved interviews and cost analyses. Questions asked of participants included employment if any, their quality of life, how long they lived in Albuquerque, how long they’d been homeless, and whether they had used shelters.

UNM researchers also analyzed costs of the services they used, including physical and mental health care, detention centers, ambulances, fire department response services, shelters, and meal sites. Close to nine in 10 of study participants reported having been in jail and having gotten mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“The one year post-Heading Home costs were 31.6 percent less than the one year pre-Heading Home program costs,” the study concluded. That translates to a savings of close to $13,000 in savings per participant.

Since the program began, at least 46 people have left the program, and nine have died.

Fourteen clients were successfully discharged, meaning they became independent, for example, by securing Section 8 housing for themselves.

On the flip side, 23 were unsuccessfully discharged, meaning that they either got evicted from the housing the city had placed them in, were jailed for 90 or more days, had abandoned their apartment, or didn’t have contact with the program for 90 days or longer.