A report released today by Crisis and the University of York calculates that helping people stay off the streets could save the taxpayer as much as £18,000 per year for every person helped.
The logic, so the report states, is clear: preventing homelessness saves lives, but also reduces public costs.
For those of us who work in the homelessness sector, this report is not a shock. Whether it is the pressure on accident and emergency units, hospitals discharging onto the streets (thereby leading to a longer stay in hospital down the road) or the costs of housing accommodation services, its clear that prevention is always better than cure when it comes to homelessness.
Of course the great irony is that, as the Government embark on another batch of funding cuts (including homelessness services), the continuing dismantling of social care services, such as mental health provision, will lead to even more people ending up on the streets, and the cost to the public purse rising even further.
The argument that prevention will save money for the public purse is not a new one. For years this has been argued, with little tangible impact in day to day provision on the ground.
Here at The Passage, we see the effects of homelessness at first hand every day. Whilst always there for those who have already hit the streets, we are increasingly looking at ways to prevent homelessness in the first place.
One of our schemes, Home for Good, looks at how local communities into which former rough sleepers have been resettled can play a role in supporting those people into the type of support networks so many of us can take for granted.
Surely though the true cost is more than financial? The sight of someone sleeping on the streets is one of the most tangible and visible signs that something has gone terribly wrong in that persons’ life.
For those of us who have never experienced homelessness, it can be difficult to really understand just what it is like to be on the streets.
Our Chaplains at The Passage have a phrase called ‘inner homelessness’, which for me captures perfectly the commonality of the human experience. Although most of us will never sleep on the streets, we have all (at different moments in our lives) felt an inner homelessness; a feeling of being alone. Of feeling lost and in despair. At that time, having someone to turn to for support is what gets us though. For many of those who don’t (and it is frighteningly easy for this to happen) it can very quickly lead to ending up street homeless.
The cost of not intervening is more than just a cost to the public purse, as true and ironic at this time of cuts that may be. It is about what we want to be as a society. About what values we hold dear, and the value (or cost) we put on the dignity of our fellow human beings and their worth.
Jesus, as usual, sums it up perfectly; 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:40)