Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Between shelters, emergency rooms and jails, Donovan told Stewart, it costs “about $40,000 a year to have a homeless person on the streets.”

An interesting exchange took place on The Daily Show when comedian Jon Stewart interviewed the secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about homelessness.

In response to a question about what's planned on the homelessness front, Secretary Shaun Donovan told Stewart, “The thing we finally figured out is that it’s actually not only better for people but cheaper to solve homelessness than it is to put a Bandaid on it ...”(The Daily Show, March 5, at about 2 minutes in).

(We’ll second that.)

To which Stewart responded, “But isn’t so much of it tied up also in the mental health system? Because an awful lot of people on the street are suffering from disabilities and illnesses that are untreated?”

(Which we’ll second while raising a cheer from the bleachers for getting it.)

To which Donovan replied: “You know what’s amazing particularly on that point? A veteran is 50% more likely to be homeless than the average American.”

(Uh, hello?)

So Donovan had nothing to say – then or anywhere in the 5:57-minute segment – about the role of untreated severe mental illness in homelessness.

The nugget that the head of HUD did drop, however, is something that every advocate for assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) should scoop up and share with any public official who says local governments can’t afford AOT.

Between shelters, emergency rooms and jails, Donovan told Stewart, it costs “about $40,000 a year to have a homeless person on the streets.”

$40,000.

Per homeless person.

With a price tag like that, decision makers owe constituents evidence that they can't afford a community-based treatment option that's been proven to help people too ill to seek treatment voluntarily get off the streets and stay out of ERs and jails.

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