SEATTLE—An innovative supportive-housing development saved taxpayers more than $4 million over the first year of operation, according to a new study.
That figure is the total cost reduction for just 95 individuals housed at 1811 Eastlake in Seattle, a project that is home to formerly homeless alcoholics.
The residents of 1811 Eastlake had accrued more than $8.2 million in emergency services, jail time, and sobering center visits in the year prior to intervention. The group cut its costs by half in the year after entering housing.
Even after factoring in the cost of administering housing, there was a cost reduction of almost $2,500 per person per month in health and social services compared to a control group of 39 homeless people, said Mary Larimer, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington and lead author of the study.
Larimer’s study provides support for the Housing First approach, which calls for providing stable housing to chronically homeless individuals first without demanding sobriety or treatment although different services such as substance-abuse treatment and counseling are available.
“One, it’s less costly by far to house them in Housing First then to leave them on the streets,” said Larimer. “Two, the cost reductions get larger the longer a person remains in the housing. Services that are provided to help keep these guys housed are actually paying off in terms of additional cost reductions. Third, their drinking actually decreases over time in the house, which I think is contrary to what some people expected to find.”
Housing First models are being implemented in different cities. They differ from the traditional idea of putting the homeless in a temporary shelter, getting them sober, and then moving them into permanent housing.
1811 Eastlake, which was financed with low-income housing tax credits and other sources, was opened by Downtown Emergency Service Center in 2005. The group hit the streets to find hard-core street alcoholics to live in the new building, where they are allowed to drink in their apartments. It has been a controversial project because of the population that it serves.
Results of the new study are published in the April 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.