13 August 2009

Vagrancy Not Cheap

In Dallas, it costs somewhere between $36,500 to $60,000 per year per person to deal with your average chronically homeless vagrant.

Dallas County taxpayers spend about $50 million a year sheltering, treating and jailing the homeless.

Perhaps half of that is for the 600 to 1,000 toughest cases – many of whom visit emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, jails so often they're called "frequent fliers." These very ill people repeatedly cycle through a massive, uncoordinated system of local, state, federal and private institutions at alarming speed and alarming cost. And despite the millions being spent, many of these chronically homeless people remain in shelters and cardboard boxes.

"What do we get? They're still homeless," said Mike Rawlings, who serves as Dallas' homeless czar. "Somebody would be fired in the business world if they got those results."

The $50 million figure was arrived at by totaling the annual expenses of more than a dozen local taxpayer-funded agencies. It is a conservative figure because some agencies do not track how much they spend on the homeless. And it does not include at least $23 million in private funds spent locally caring for the homeless.

Some of the costs to taxpayers are predictable: the police officers who get the homeless off the street, and the places that house them and treat their mental and physical illnesses. But there are plenty of other expenses: for ambulance runs, removing trash from homeless camps, even staffing for the city's drunk tank.

There has to be a better way.

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