Prevention, it is a mantra that most people would agree is a better course of action than waiting for something to breakdown and absorbing a larger cost and loss of time.
Preventative medicine saves lives and money. Preventive maintenance reduces costs for car and house repairs and minimizes breakdowns. Why then do we flip things around when it comes to homelessness by concentrating on chronic homelessness instead of trying to end it before it begins?
Prevention in regards to homelessness should begin with youth and young adults who have not evolved into a homeless state of mind and who have not given up on the chance for leaving this lifestyle behind.
A youth recently told me, “I don’t call myself homeless because that would mean that I’ve given up hope. Instead I say that I am without a home.”
Youth often become homeless as a result of a severe family conflict that often includes physical and/or sexual abuse. One quarter of former foster youth experience homelessness within four years of exiting foster care. In California, 70% of prisoners spent time in foster care system.
The State of California, which is responsible for removing children from their families, must be held responsible for discharging Foster children to positive outcomes. More effort is required to create programs between youth services and homeless services in order to better prepare for, and deliver services to, these emancipated youths toward the end of preventing chronic homelessness.
According to a 2012 report from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the average general fund cost per division of juvenile justice ward $179,400, while the average cost for helping a youth through a transitional living program was $15,000.
Despite the cost-effectiveness of transitional housing programs, their funding levels have remained relatively static and meet only a fraction of the total need.
Santa Clara County should establish 100 new housing slots each year for former foster and homeless youth. This housing should include a range of options from transitional housing, independent group living, and permanent supportive housing. In addition, each youth should be matched to a long term intensive case manager.
Permanent supportive housing has been proven to be the most effective and efficient way to take the chronically homeless off the streets. We must build upon our successes and phase out programs that do not work.
Logic and compassion dictate that moving our 1,200 youth living on the streets of Santa Clara County into permanent supportive housing would be cost effective, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Doing so would also provide the youth with an opportunity to break the cycle of homelessness that controls their lives.