Kern County agencies spend about $25 million annually to feed, care for and shelter its homeless population, according to a newly released cost-benefit analysis produced by the Kern County Homeless Collaborative.
That's about $5,551 per year for each of Kern's estimated 4,500 homeless and formerly homeless people.
Della Hodson of United Way shared the results of the study with the Collaborative's full membership Tuesday.
“Housing the homeless greatly reduces the costs and impacts of homelessness,” Hodson said, quoting the cost benefit analysis.
While most of these funds come from the federal or state sources, about 25 percent, or $6 million, comes from local government and private donations.
It costs about $40,000 a year, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, for a homeless person to live on the streets. Use of HUD's new “Housing First” strategy reduces those costs, the study said.
In Bakersfield, “Housing First” reduces those costs to about $12,000 per year per chronically homeless person, a savings of about $28,000 annually per person.
“Placing these homeless people in affordable housing with supportive services results in significant reductions in emergency, hospital and law enforcement costs,” the study reports.
The analysis results "support the belief that it is less expensive to house homeless people than it is to leave them on the streets or in shelters," according to the study. "Jail time and costs decreased by 98 percent. In-patient hospitalization costs decreased by 88 percent, ambulance transports by 65 percent and emergency room visits by 49 percent” for a survey group of chronically homeless people.
The study shows that finding housing solutions for the homeless is not just the right thing to do for the homeless, but the smart economic thing to do, Hodson said.
“I really believe the cost/benefit analysis gives us a good gauge on what it takes to finance, serve, and house our homeless population," said Carlos Baldovinos, Kern County Homeless Collaborative chair and director of The Mission at Kern County. "With this tool, we can better assess how to allocate funding to get the maximum benefit.”
The community should take satisfaction that the will and the effort is present to solve the homeless problem in Kern County, even if funds are becoming more scarce, Hodson said.
Former Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, a longtime advocate for the homeless, attended the meeting, as did Mayor Karen Goh, Bakersfield City Councilman Andre Gonzales and a representative from Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s office.