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Byline: Rick Orlov and Troy Anderson, Staff Writers

It would cost taxpayers less to provide public housing for Los Angeles' vast homeless population than to let them wander the streets as transients, according to a report released today by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The survey of four individuals found that it cost taxpayers $107,032 to provide housing and other benefits to a homeless person for two years, compared with $187,288 for those living in the street.

Costs for a more unsettled lifestyle soared because of more frequent visits to hospitals and mental health clinics and more frequent arrests and time spent in jail - bills also picked up by the public.

"I think it is something we always believed, but this proves that it is not cheaper to leave people out on the streets," said Elise Buik, president and CEO of the United Way's Los Angeles chapter.

"There has been this perception that it would cost too much to provide housing, and this shows that is not the case."

The study was launched in 2007 in cooperation with University of Southern California's Center for Community Health Studies and Housing.

In their report, researchers noted that chronically homeless residents feared that public housing would be taken from them and that it took some time for them to overcome their suspicions.

However, as the individuals became more comfortable, their quality of life improved, with many getting off drugs and alcohol and finding permanent jobs.

But Tony Bell, a spokesman for county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, questioned the value of spending money on housing if the bigger issue of mental illness is not addressed.

"Putting those folks, the mentally ill, into housing is nothing but warehousing them without treatment," Bell said. "It's a revolving door without the requisite mental health treatment."

Daniel Flaming, president of The Economic Roundtable in Los Angeles, said the government could save money by addressing the particular needs of the homeless before their problems become debilitating.

"One issue we need to be paying attention to is how to meet the needs of chronically homeless people who live on the streets," Flaming said. "On the other hand, there is also a need to intervene earlier before people become that disabled."

Also supporting the study was Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who said the county conducted a similar study for Project 50 - a program that found housing for the county's 50 most vulnerable homeless - and came to similar conclusions.

The program has since been expanded to house 250 people in the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, Venice and West Hollywood.

"This is an intelligent analysis and it's consistent with other analyses done in Los Angeles and around the country," Yaroslavsky said.

Buik said the United Way is also trying to to educate the public and businesses about the report's findings.

"We need to show that the taxpayers benefit by having permanent housing and are hoping to see Los Angeles used as a model for managing homelessness," Buik said.

The United Way study is part of a 10-year program called Creating Pathways Out of Poverty, which was launched in 2007 to tackle the homeless problem.

"As we realize the economic impact of homelessness in Los Angeles and beyond, we need to continue driving the programs that will eradicate homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles County," Buik said.

"It's an uphill battle, with foreclosures up and over half (the people) spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing."

But with aid from government declining, Buik said the study shows ways money can be saved by providing housing.

"Cities like New York, Seattle and Portland have focused on long-term solutions such as rapid rehousing ... and have great success in reducing the homeless population," Buik said.

Over the past two years, the United Way has worked with local government to provide permanent housing for 5,000 individuals and families.

Much of this is the result of contributions from its annual HomeWalk, which will be held on Nov. 7, beginning in Exposition Park.

Last year, more than 4,000 people participated in the walk and raised about $500,000, officials said.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 13, 2009
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