NewsKern's Homeless Crisis


Breaking down the cost of homelessness

Report states it's more expensive to keep someone homeless than to house them.
Posted: 8:19 AM, Jul 13, 2021
Updated: 2021-07-13 12:55:37-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The number of homeless in our city and on our streets continues to rise, as with that, so does the cost for medical emergency services, police, and code enforcement.

According to the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative's Cost Benefit Analysis report, keeping someone on the streets or in shelters is more expensive than housing them. The Collaborative says that after surveying 31 formerly homeless people who had lived in permanent supportive housing for from six to 18 months, the results suggested housing and supplying supportive services amounted to $28,000 in savings per person annually.

”It’s incredibly expensive for our community, our taxpayer dollars go to code enforcement, and hospitals, and street outreach. All of those things are a cost,” said Dr. Anna Laven, Executive Director for the BKRHC.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that it costs about $40,000 a year for a homeless person to live on the streets. The BKRHC estimated the for 2016 to 217, the total combined budget for services locally was around $25 million. This came out to about $5,551 per person.

You don’t see the bill, but the bill is there," Laven said.

Of that $25 million, $18.9 million originates from federal and state grants or block grant-type allocations. City and County general funds combined are about $2 million annually, and private charitable donations amount to at least $4 million.

While homeless individuals are a very visible presence in the community, the cost to taxpayers tends to be hidden.

Since 2012, the Bakersfield Code Enforcement Department has partnered with the BKRHC for the Kern River Encampment Cleanup, which between the years of 2014 to 2017 employed 13 staffers, who accrued over 1,300 hours of work on riverbank cleanups. According to the report, this amounted to $94,229, which translates to about $36,476 per year, paid for from the City General Fund.

In police response, the Bakersfield Police Department estimated the annual cost of homelessness for the department rounds out to $2,048,574.

In 2008 the BKRHC initiated a housing first model, an approach that involves placing homeless people into permanent affordable housing as quickly as possible without preconditions or service barriers.

Basic tenets of the Housing First approach are: 1) that stable housing is a platform from which people can rebuild their lives; and, 2) that homeless people should be housed without delay, regardless of problems they may present, rather than be forced to undergo a graduated service process leading to housing. Homeless people should be treated like any other renter, and be empowered by allowing them to choose their housing and services.
Cost Benefit Analysis of the Housing First Approach to Ending Homelessness in Kern County

According to the report, county jail and prison time for the individuals surveyed dropped from 671 to 10 days while being housed between two six-month periods. The report said interaction with police decreased from 260 to 24 during this time as well.

Medical hospitalization costs dropped by 88%, ambulance transports by 65%, emergency room visits dropped by 49% and overall service costs to these individuals dropped by a total of $731,534.

“What’s so beautiful is we can transform someone from this hurt individual that is a cost to the community and help them transform into someone who is healing," said Laven.