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When Following the Money is a Good Thing

My last blog post left several people wondering, what did Utah do? The state examined the amount of money homelessness was costing the state and implemented a “housing first” program that gives supportive housing to those who have experienced homelessness for an extended period and have a disabling condition. You can read more about it here. As a result, Utah is on track to end homelessness in the state by 2015.

Today, my friend Emma Connolly sent me another article written by Mike Kessler in Takepart. The article contrasts the various responses of local governments to homelessness and mental illness. Here’s the big point: treating those with mental illness as “a whole person” and providing the assistance needed to keep them out of jail is the course that makes economic sense. The example given is Miami-Dade County, which switched tactics thanks to a judge who said, “enough”:

“Florida’s Miami-Dade County’s misdemeanor prison diversion program, now in its 14th year, has prepared more than 4,000 law enforcement officers to handle mental health crises among civilians. The program is the result of a summit called by Judge Steve Leifman, in which “[there] was a realization that we had an embarrassing, dysfunctional system and it was abusive and not accomplishing anything positive and people just kept re-cycling,” he said.

Leifman said that since the start of the program, law enforcement has responded to approximately 10,000 calls involving the mentally ill. “Out of the 10,000 calls, [officers] only made 27 arrests, which resulted in a decrease of our jail [population] from about 7,800 to 5,000,” Leifman said. (That’s a 36 percent drop, which is more than the prisoner reduction mandated by the Supreme Court.) At the same time, he said, there hasn’t been a shooting by a mentally ill offender “in a really long time.” Inspired by the program’s efficacy, Miami-Dade applied it to nonviolent felons, who Leifman says recidivate at a rate even lower than misdemeanor offenders. Thanks to the program, the nonviolent felon population is holding at 6 percent, he said. It’s been such a success that Miami-Dade County closed one of its jails for lack of inmates, saving taxpayers $12 million a year.”

You can read the article in full here.

So, when economic good sense and compassionate caring coincide, why is everyone not doing this? The article provides some answers. You might have some of your own.

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Comments (4)

  • Memphis is working hard in the Housing First front. My agency uses this principle along with several others in the city. We have a long way to go as far as the community infrastructure necessary to have it work as intended–a lot of needs come up without resources to meet them–but the phiosophical basis is there. Compassion will always triumph in the end.

  • Ellen Morris Prewitt

    That is so good to hear, Marisa. I knew we had adopted the Housing First philosophy. So here’s to praying for the resources to meet the needs.

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