Homelessness in the Indianapolis area cost over $73 million in 2016, according to a new report from the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.
The number represents money spent by health care providers, shelters, donations, and the criminal justice system. Researchers say it's likely a conservative number.
Alan Witchey leads the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention. The group asked IU to conduct the report, which Witchey says has never been done in Indianapolis.
Witchey says it reaffirms what he’s argued for a long time – an investment in housing for the homeless would ultimately save a lot of money.
“Anecdotally, that doesn’t seem right. ‘So you’re saying it’s cheaper if we house somebody? But I have to give money for that.’ And you say, well, there’s a bunch of costs that you aren’t taking into consideration, costs that may be hidden, that we are paying as taxpayers anyway,” Witchey says.
Witchey’s goal is to convince lawmakers this is true, and he hopes the new data will help.
Arguments about long-term investment can be difficult when the payoff is a long time away. But Witchey says the Housing First model, an approach based on the idea that the quickest way to end homelessness is to provide housing, is an easier sell.
“The difference with homelessness is that the return is very, very quick," Witchey says."You invest in somebody in one year, you see that return the very next year.”
The study also found an estimated 1,072 families experienced homelessness in 2016, in the Indianapolis area. The estimated cost was $17,975 per family.
Throughout the year of the study, an estimated 8,176 people experienced homelessness in the city.