The cost of homelessness can be surprisingly expensive for municipalities and taxpayers. Each Cold Night Shelter can cost hundreds of dollars each night to cover facility costs, food, blankets, cots, transportation, and security staff. Despite countywide coordination and expense, there are some people experiencing homelessness who prefer not to sleep in the shelters despite the cold.
Jonathan Cagan, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, launched a design challenge with his students. "Why not create a temporary shelter they can bring to them, one that would be technically feasible but also financially feasible." The winning team designed "Green Residence", a folding shelter that doubles as a billboard. Total cost: $200. While this idea is not a solution to end homelessness, it is an innovative temporary shelter for those who avoid emergency shelters or cannot wait for temperatures to drop low enough for shelters to open.
Emergency shelter is a costly alternative to permanent housing. While it is sometimes necessary for short-term crises, too often it serves as long-term housing. The cost of an emergency shelter bed funded by HUD's Emergency Shelter Grants program is approximately $8,067 more than the average annual cost of a federal housing subsidy (Section 8 Housing Certificate). A HUD study found that the cost of providing emergency shelter to families is generally as much or more than the cost of placing them in transitional or permanent housing.
"Emergency shelter is a costly alternative to permanent housing...too often it serves as long-term housing."
Homelessness both causes and results from serious health care issues, including addiction, psychological disorders, HIV/AIDS, and a host of order ailments that require long-term, consistent care. Homelessness inhibits this care, as housing instability often detracts from regular medical attention, access to treatment, and recuperation. This inability to treat medical problems can aggravate these problems, making them both more dangerous and more costly.
A housing-based approach (Housing First) to homelessness is not only more cost-effective than a shelter-based approach, but more effective in the long term. By focusing our resources on ending homelessness, we can reduce government spending while helping the county's most vulnerable residents.