Report: Helping Florida's homeless can save money

Findings say pilot program cut homeless participants' expenses in half

Diane Scott said she likely wouldn't hold two jobs, have a car or a place to live without supportive housing.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Providing Florida’s homeless with stable housing for at least a year may help cut down on a range of costs, including those related to incarceration and emergency room visits, according to a new report.

Those preliminary findings were contained within a report released Friday by Ability Housing, a nonprofit group that aims to end homelessness in Northeast Florida by making affordable housing available to those in need.

The group took part in a statewide pilot, called The Solution That Saves, which studied the economic impacts of supportive housing on the lives of 58 individuals who rely on crisis services.

The pilot was funded in part by Florida Housing Finance Corporation, a state-run agency that seeks to address the lack of affordable housing for low-income residents.

Nancy Muller, director of policy for Florida Housing, said supportive housing was born from the idea of combining housing with support services to assist vulnerable populations who might otherwise be out on the streets.

“The idea here is by stabilizing these folks, not only do we increase their quality of life, but maybe we save money,” Muller said.

A year later, observers have seen a 50 percent drop in expenses for the study's subjects at hospitals, jails and other agencies that serve the homeless, said Shannon Nazworth, executive director for Ability Housing.

“When people are homeless, especially chronically homeless, they’re cycling through the hospitals, the jails, the crisis services of various natures,” Nazworth said.

“If we get them to stable housing, get them some wraparound support, they are much more stable. They are not in and out of the hospital, they’re not being arrested, they’re not availing themselves of priceless services,” she added.

Jacksonville mother Diane Scott struggled for years with substance abuse and homelessness. She said a violent relationship five years ago brought her to the city. Then she and her son took turns sleeping at the Sulzbacher Center, in their car and sometimes friends' couches.

Now, after living in a supportive setting, she’s nearly three years’ sober – and has a place at the beach to call home. Scott, who works two jobs to support her family, said she wouldn’t be where she is now without stable housing and strict case management.

“Had I not had housing, there’s no way I could have stayed sober and my life would’ve still continued to be unmanageable,” she said.

Scott said she now looks forward to paying her bills and paying off her car. “People think I’m crazy, but I love it. I absolutely love it,” she added.

Among the study’s findings were a 50 percent reduction in overall expenses for the study’s participants. Their expenses fell from $4.9 million to roughly $2.5 million.

It also showed there were vastly fewer hospital visits, with 328 before and 129 since then. That likely contributed to a 63 percent reduction in overall hospital costs, which dipped from $4 million to nearly $1.5 million.

The findings also indicated there was an 89 percent drop in the costs of days spent in jail.

"I was expecting that we would see those kind of drops, but frankly I hadn't quantified it," Muller said.

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