HUD Reports on Cost of Helping the Homeless

Christine Nyholm's picture

Homelessness comes with a cost, not only to the homeless, but to society at large. On March 25, 2010, HUD released a study on the costs of helping individuals and families who are homeless for the first time. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released three studies on the cost of ‘first-time' homelessness; life after transitional housing for homeless families; and strategies for improving access to mainstream benefits programs.

The costs for providing shelter and services to first time homeless people can vary by region and by the type of services provided. The HUD study found costs ranging from $581 a month for an individual's stay in an emergency shelter in Des Moines, Iowa to as much as $3,530 for a family's monthly stay in emergency shelter in Washington, D.C.

HUD's cost study is the most comprehensive research on the price tag associated with first-time homelessness and creates a foundation to compare the costs of various homeless interventions. The three studies, taken together, will help to inform future policy discussions on strategies to help the homeless.

"These studies expand our knowledge of the true costs of homelessness and raises other questions that go far beyond dollars and cents," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Now we need to have a serious discussion over what strategies are not only most cost effective, but how we can help individuals and families from falling into homelessness in the first place."

The HUD study, Costs Associated with First Time Homelessness for Families and Individuals, looks at the cost of first time homelessness for nearly 9,000 people in six areas of the United States.

HUD is currently investing $1.5 billion in funding through the Recovery Act's Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless and help those who are experiencing homelessness to be quickly re-housed and stabilized.

According to information from HUD, most of the people in the study experienced homelessness only once or twice and use emergency shelter for a limited time at a fairly low cost. HUD also found that some households, with longer periods of homelessness , may use more expensive programs.

Overnight emergency shelter for individuals have the lowest costs, but offer fewer service, least private settings and are often open only during evening hours. Transitional housing is the most expensive model for individuals, frequently offering more privacy and a comprehensive range of on-site services.

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Written by Christine Nyholm

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