In re: Hardcore Homeless

I first heard about this last week on NPR (listen to story here) on an interview with New Yorker author Malcolm Gladwell. The story he had just written and was discussing concerned what could be described as the hardcore homeless, those who are chronically often for years living in shelters, aggressively panhandling and abusing alcohol and drugs and very often disabled or mentally ill. The interesting part is that this is actually a small percentage of the homeless, as most homeless folks are only so for a few days. However, these chronically homeless, while only a small percentage of the homeless population, apparently they cost society quite a lot.

Culhane estimates that in New York at least sixty-two million dollars was being spent annually to shelter just those twenty-five hundred hard-core homeless.

Further and even more expensive are the routine emergency room visits that occur as these homeless are often found so drunk that they have hit their heads and require emergency surgery or pneumonia from the cold. To top it off though, after an expensive hospital stay that may cost well over $50,000 they are back on the streets again, only to have the whole cycle repeat. The argument that is put forth is that it isn’t that we aren’t spending money on these folks on the streets already, but we are spending too much. Instead of the craziness that is going on right now, we could spend much less by giving them free apartments, case workers and keeping track of them. In fact trial runs have had phenomenal success, and while the working mom with three kids might ask why we aren’t giving her free apartments, we can at least argue that we are saving money by doing this, freeing up money for programs that may help her. So I recommend checking out the New Yorker “Million Dollar Murray” an article by Gladwell. (see here)

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