Editorial: Inaction on homelessness costs money

The study determined that homeless people with mental illness generate high costs for society

When it comes to taking action on the homelessness crisis in B.C., opponents to action will often cite the cost of providing services to the province’s most vulnerable people. Action does come with a price tag, but so does inaction.

A 2017 study by At Home/Chez Soi Investigators found that average annual costs for a homeless individual living in Vancouver reached $53,144. The study determined that homeless people with mental illness generate high costs for society, and new programs are needed to reorient the spending toward more effectively preventing homelessness and toward meeting the health, housing and social service needs of homeless people.

Throughout B.C., an estimated 7,655 individuals were identified as experiencing homelessness by a 2018 Report on Homelessness by the Homelessness Service Association of B.C. Fifty-one per cent of all respondents reported experiencing homelessness for the first time when they were under 25 years of age. More than half of survey respondents reported two or more health conditions. Fifty-six per cent of respondents reported an addiction, 44 per cent reported a medical condition, 40 per cent reported a mental illness, and 33 per cent reported a physical disability.

The statistics are clear: homelessness is a public health crisis.

Given that half of all homeless individuals report experiencing homelessness before age 25, it places emphasis on developing early intervention programs that catch youth before experiencing homelessness for the first time . Given that half of respondents reported an addiction, it places emphasis on the need for more rehabilitation services and treatment spaces.

Developing these services will have a cost. However, inaction on homelessness also bears a cost. When emergency services like police, fire, and ambulance are called to respond to homeless people, it costs money. When homeless people have to visit the emergency room, it costs money.

If the status quo continues, the costs of homelessness will continue to rise. Developing an effective provincial strategy on homelessness is the right thing to do, not only from a humanitarian perspective, but also from a perspective of fiscal prudence.

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