Interview data collected from 637 homeless people living in Atlanta was summarized in a public debrief that I attended yesterday. The data was collected with the help of 190 volunteers. I was one of them, and had the opportunity to interview 9 people on two different nights over the past two weeks.
The statistics were overwhelming. The interviewers recorded 642 hospitalizations in the past month, and 1,147 visits to the ER in the past 3 months. Doing the math, this would work out to costing the city $8 million over the course of a year. Granted, these calculations are based on self-reported figures, but they’re also based on only 647 individuals, and that in 2011 there were 2,400 homeless people living in Atlanta.
What happens now? The Unsheltered No More project is now working with 17 partner organizations to facilitate a process that will house the most vulnerable, chronically homeless people. Additional social services will be provided for them after they move in. Spaces for 700 have already been found.
Will placing 800 people in housing and providing them with additional support be cheaper than just leaving them on the street? A well known journalist and author, Malcom Gladwell, wrote an article in the New Yorker that sheds some light on this question. He describes a study in Philidelphia that found that “most common length of time that someone is homeless is one day. And the second most common length is two days. And they never come back.” But it was the small group of chronically homeless individuals that cost “the health-care and social-services systems far more than anyone had ever anticipated”. In other words, Atlanta’s Unsheltered No More project might save lives and save money at the same time.