I have written several times about the issues of homelessness. For me trying to address the issues that cause and surround homelessness is a moral one and a reflection of Sacramento as a community. However, as studies are completed and new data collected, it is becoming clear that solutions to homelessness, specifically housing, are less costly to provide than dealing with the health and social costs caused by homelessness itself. In short, providing housing saves lives and money.
Last month, I spoke at a memorial service for the 110 homelessness Sacramentans who died in 2014. They may have been anonymous faces to us, but we can't forget that they were someone's husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother and sister. The average age at their time of passing was 47, which is 25-30 years younger than the average life expectancy in California. Their passing is a reminder that we have a long way to go in becoming the compassionate city that we are capable of. We can, and should do better for two key reasons:
First, we know from research that the cost of homelessness far exceeds that of housing. A 2009 United Way study of four homeless individuals in Los Angeles with significant disabilities found that moving them into housing saved an average of $80,000 over a two-year period.
Another study of 207 young people over a nine-year period by the Sierra Health Foundation and Cottage Housing, found that providing housing saved an average of $4,800 annually per youth. Countless other studies in Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Seattle and Boston point to the same conclusion: providing housing for the homeless is less expensive than ignoring the situation.
Secondly, I believe that as a community, we have a responsibility to our fellow Sacramentans. It's just that simple. Whether someone has become homeless due to a financial challenge, family issues, mental health issues or drug and alcohol problems, we have a moral imperative to take action. Sacramento takes care of its own. Period.
I am proud that last November, the City Council put $1 million dollars toward the "Common Cents" initiative operated by Sacramento Steps Forward. This is a initiative that provides case management for those individuals who are the most challenged, and subsequently spend the most time in emergency rooms and police cars. Common Cents is a research-based program model that has been successful in other cities. My hope is that we will begin to see positive results soon, and the City and County can dedicate additional resources to expand the program.
In addition to Common Cents, Sacramento Steps Forward has been working hard on the Winter Sanctuary Initiative. This is a program that operates from November 24th to March 31st, and partners with local houses of worship to provide a rotating shelter for one or more nights. Winter Sanctuary guests meet at a staging location near Loaves and Fishes, and are transported to the host congregation for the night. Volunteers provide food and sleeping accommodations. It's programs like these that help our homeless and we need to continue to support them going forward.
I am excited that we now have a number of councilmembers committed to working together to address the systemic issues of homelessness. For both financial and moral reasons, it's the right thing to do.
In addition to his council duties, Jay works as an independent consultant and policy advisor on education reform and youth policy and strategies.