Wednesday, April 30, 2008

House the homeless and save money?

As part of recent stories by Bianca Phillips and Shara Clark, activist Jacob Flowers said that Memphis' only free shelter was located at 201 Poplar. (For the uninitiated or just plain lucky, that's the jail.)

That quote didn't make the paper, but was in response to a Center City Commission initiative to halt aggressive panhandling. Because there are no free shelters, if someone needs a place to stay the night, they have to scrounge up a few bucks. And that sometimes means panhandling.

Now I don't know if I believe that downtown's problem panhandlers are always homeless, but running people from one side of town to the other might not be the best solution.

USA Today had a story yesterday about a Seattle program that houses 75 formerly homeless alcoholics. A new study finds that the program has not only improved the residents' lives but has saved the city $2 million a year.

The controversial part? The residents are allowed to continue drinking in their taxpayer-funded apartments.

The city found that "chronic public inebriates" (or CPIs, for short — and connotatively blank) were the most expensive category of homeless for the city. They spent lots of time in the ER and in jail. And the thing is, hospital beds and jail cells are expensive public services.

The article points out the program won't solve chronic homelessness, but already it's made a difference, both for the 75 people who have a place to live and the city itself.