Who is Paying for All this Supportive Housing?
In the Sunday Plain Dealer, Joe Frolik, did a nice overview of supportive housing and the new Emerald Commons Project. Then yesterday, WCPN, did one hour on the supportive housing fad that is sweeping the country. We have talked about these projects in the past, and disclosed the reservations that we have for supportive housing. Today, is the ribbon cutting for the Emerald Commons project.
Don't get me wrong...These are great projects and anyone would love to live in one of these buildings. In fact, every homeless person should have access to these kind of buildings. What never gets discussed is where is all this money coming from? Dan Malthroup tried to get to this discussion when he talked about the value of the $9 million that went into the Emerald Commons project on WCPN. Unfortunately, this he did not dig deep enough on this issue. The champions of these programs keep telling the public that supportive housing saves money, but they never answer the question, "Are those systems that are seeing savings, paying for these programs?" We heard over and over that these projects save health care costs, criminal justice costs and alcohol treatment costs, but are any of these systems paying for these buildings? No, the Cleveland Clinic did not contribute, nor did the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and the Alcohol and Drug Board is not giving money to these projects. So, if they are saving all this money why aren't they paying the costs for the building?
Who is paying for these services and the building's capital costs? Money directed at poor people and homeless people are the individuals paying for these projects. By their own admission, the long term homeless (the only people who have access to these buildings) make up 10-15% of the total homeless population, so why are we paying the majority of the budget for these projects? Why is 30% of the homeless dollars in our community going to these projects when these groups only make up 10-15% of the total homeless population? How many family vouchers (40% of the homeless population) would $9 million pay for? How many in-patient recovery beds for the addicted (60% of the homeless population) could we buy with this money? How many vouchers with case management could we buy for those with a mental illness (32% of the homeless population)? My concern is that no one is making strategic economic decisions with the homeless money we get, and no one is talking about how we are going to fund the supportive services for these buildings in the long run.
The other big issue that the champions try to put forward is that the long term homeless use 60-80% of the resources so if we can free up these resources then we have more money for families, mentally ill, and alcohol and drug treatment. First of all I don't believe these statistics are universal for every city. Secondly, the problem with this theory is that the only way this logic works is if you solve long term homelessness, but no one is planning on solving this problem. We heard that Columbus is doing 500 units over 7 years, and Cleveland is doing 1,000 units over 7-10 years. This is not going to solve the problem and during that time another 5,000 more long term homeless will ask for help along with all the other homeless people who knock on the front door of our shelters. So, you will not close one shelter bed and demand will still be the same as before one of these units opened. There will still be the same number or more of those experiencing homelessness who sleep outside and the same number or more in shelters after all these millions are spent on supportive housing locally. Also, while not solving the problem, we are actually creating other populations like families who will be long term homeless because all the resources are used for the disabled.
It is similar to a giant vat dropping Skittles at a rate of 10,000 per year or over 800 rainbow colored Skittles per month into your bedroom. You cannot use your bedroom while 800 Skittles keep dropping on you as you sleep, so you decide to pick up the Skittles that have been on your floor the longest. You spend 30% of your monthly income on a box to hold your Skittles that you clean up. You pick up 1,000 Skittles or 143 Skittles a month out of your bedroom over seven years during which time another 70,000 Skittles dropped from the inappropriately located vat in your bedroom. Would you notice a difference between the 70,000 rainbow colored Skittles if you did nothing or the 69,000 Skittles left after spending time and 30% of your income every month for seven years trying to clean up your bedroom? You would have one really nice box of Skittles on your desk, but not much else. It is a silly example, but so is supportive housing championed as a solution to homelessness. Either get rid of the vat that keeps dropping Skittles or clean up all the Skittles as they fall or your efforts will never be noticed by the community. At the end of the seven years and the millions spent, the public is going to be ticked off that there is no visible change in the landscape except these very expensive Skittle boxes.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.