Why One Company Thinks Homelessness Can Be Solved with Investments, Not Donations


The problem of homelessness in the United States is one that seems almost shameful for a developed country. Yet one organization has come up with a way to solve the problem that is novel in its simplicity.

The Los Angeles-based Weingart Center has determined that it costs around $35,000 annually, mainly through donations, just to keep the homeless alive on the streets. That includes the costs of emergency room and hospital visits, food stamps and mental health services.

If that person gets arrested, however, those costs go up to about $47,000. That comes from both donations and taxpayer funds, as the money goes toward law enforcement. And of course, at the end of the year, the individual is usually in the same place — homeless and reliant on donations.

By comparison, to invest in one person, including costs related to employment (along with education and job training), housing, and case management and follow-up support, the firm says only costs $10,000.

The Weingart Center’s approach to homelessness is reminiscent of the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In other words, spending the money to give veterans and others the skills and resources to live independently may be far more cost effective than throwing money at organizations that can’t take them off the street.

Last year, the Weingart Center helped 800 formerly homeless people find jobs. The group also claims that it differs from homelessness services like shelters, which don’t really help the homeless improve their situations.

Other cities and states around the United States have begun taking radical approaches to reducing — and even eliminating — homelessness.

Utah, for instance, has provided tiny houses the size of small studio apartments to homeless residents. In Phoenix, AZ, officials plan to completely eliminate homelessness among veterans by the end of the year.

Orlando, FL faces similar deadlines, and the city’s VA has partnered with a local commission on homelessness to improve the lives of local veterans with housing and other resources.

Veterans are especially at risk for homelessness, especially for longer periods; the average veteran is on the streets for about eight years. They often get clothing donations and other services from Purple Heart donation pick ups, which take in much of the 14.3 million tons of clothing donated annually in the United States.

And efforts by the Weingart Center and other advocates in L.A. are sorely needed given ending legislation.

The Los Angeles City Council passed two ordinances that target homeless citizens, and it is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti by July 6.

Both ordinances will allow the Los Angeles Police Department to impound any possessions the homeless have that cannot be worn or carried on their backs, including items such as tents, tarps, bedding, sleeping bags and other items used for shelter and warmth. Police can also take clothing, documents and medication and charge homeless violators, sending them to jail or forcing them to pay fines with money they likely don’t have.

In other cities around the country and internationally, local governments have also installed aggressive anti-homeless measures around buildings and on sidewalks. Storefronts have spikes pop up from pavement during the evening, and park benches are broken up into sections by arm rests, preventing homeless people from laying down.

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