The Cost of Homelessness Facts
The vast majority of people struggling with homelessness lack health insurance, a public provision for health care or a primary care physician. Since hospital emergency departments are a community resource, by law, they must serve everybody regardless of their ability to pay. So the expense of assisting people struggling with homelessness when gaining access to health care falls on the Tex. S. Taxpayer. Nearly one-third of all visits to the emergency room are made by people struggling with chronic homelessness. They have a wide array of complex needs: chronic health conditions, multiple psychosocial risk factors, like mental illness and substance use disorders, and they do not have a social support system. Moreover, emergency departments are not equipped to meet the psychosocial needs of homeless community members and do not have the capacity to assist them with housing, substance abuse treatment, and mental health care.
How much does homelessness cost the taxpayer?
- People struggling with homelessness are often frequent users of emergency departments. On average, they visit the emergency room five times per year. The highest users of emergency departments visit weekly. Each visit costs $3,700; that's $18,500 spent per year for the average person and $44,400 spent per year for the highest users of emergency departments.
- People struggling with homelessness spend, on average, 3 nights per visit in the hospital which can cost over $9,000.
- Not only does homelessness cause health problems, "homeless people have higher rates of chronic health problems than the general population. This takes the form of higher rates of illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and HIV disease" (Dr. Margot Kushel, Associate Professor of Medicine in Residence, UCSK/ SF General Hospital).
- 80% of emergency room visits made by people struggling with homelessness is for an illness that could have been treated with preventative care.
How does housing affect health?
- Studies show that housing is a critical factor in addressing the health concerns of the homeless population. After they are in their own housing, the formerly homeless community is more receptive to interventions and social services support. For most, being housed reduces stress and symptoms related to mental health or substance abuse disorders. Offering the provision of housing to the homeless community decreases the number of visits they make to emergency departments by nearly 61%.
- Ultimately, providing permanent supportive housing to the homeless community saves the Tex. S. Taxpayer money:
- Health care costs are reduced by 59%.
- Emergency room costs are decreased by 61%.
- General inpatient hospitalizations are decreased by 77%.
- For community members who need assistance with medical and/or psychosocial issues, permanent supportive housing is often the only successful approach to end homelessness.
- Safe and permanent housing can give residents the stability they need to organize their lives and their health.
"Frequent Users of Health Services Initiative," The Lewin Group: Karen W. Linkins, PhD; Jennifer J. Brya, MA, PhD; Daniel W. Chandler, PhD, August 2008.
"Learning about Homelessness & Health in your Community: A Data Resource Guide," Suzanne Zerger, MA Research Specialist, August 2005.