Homelessness is bad for everyone. Obviously it’s hard on people who are without a place to live, but it also costs the rest of us as well. The average homeless spell racks up about $20,000 of cost for society at large, thanks to policing, welfare, health care and the like. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to help homeless people, but instead we should be working to prevent homelessness in the first place.
There are, of course, a lot of arguments along these lines anyway, and a lot of ways to try and prevent the problem in the first place, but a recent study has found a very simple and relatively cheap way to do that.
Many people who end up homeless are there not because they’re incapable of working, but because some event has arisen that has made it hard for them to make ends meet. Especially for people below the poverty line, missing even one rent payment is all that might stand between having a home and not.
The study found that a small cash infusion, averaging about $1,000, could keep someone off the streets for up to two years, simply by not ending up there in the first place. Not only that, but the cost of preventing homelessness during a time of crisis cost almost a third more than giving small cash infusions to very low-income families faced with one-time financial burdens.
So why should you care? Beyond the obvious humanitarian angle, homelessness is bad for business, especially local business.
People struggling to live on the street aren’t exactly buying a lot of consumer goods and because of social biases against the homeless, areas with a large population of homeless people come off as unsafe or undesirable, reducing foot traffic and even driving people out of the area. It’s not unheard of for a potential customer to not enter a store because they don’t want to have to walk past an obviously homeless person nearby.
In the long run, it’s worth the money to prevent homelessness, both for humanitarian and business reasons.