The TaxWatch Research Blog

The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

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Homelessness in Florida: Is there a better way?

Across the state and nation, homelessness continues to be an issue for many communities. While the state of Florida has seen a drop in the number of homeless individuals over the past few years, cities and counties across the state still struggle to deal with the fiscal and social impacts of homelessness.

While homelessness is obviously a major social issue, few understand the true fiscal impact that it can have on a community. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, individuals that are homeless cost taxpayers $30,000-$50,000 per year. These costs are typically attributed to emergency room visits (and hospital stays), incarcerations, and policing. With the high costs attributed to homelessness, cities across the nation are looking to creative solutions to help combat the problem, in an effort to save the communities money, and help those in need.

One state that is taking an innovative approach in an attempt to help their homeless population is Utah. More than a decade ago, the state of Utah set out on ambitious mission: end chronic homelessness. By 2015, the state saw their homeless population drop by 91%, while decreasing the fiscal impact of homelessness.

The state used a variety of tactics to combat homelessness, however the one that caught national headlines, including being featured on a segment on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, was a simple yet surprising method: housing the homeless. The project, entitled Housing First, provides homes for those experiencing homelessness. The cost to house each individual is roughly $10,000-$12,000 a year in Utah, which is significantly cheaper than the costs associated with homeless individuals.

The success of Utah has other cities following suite within the U.S. and abroad. Boston, Massachusetts and Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada have implemented their own Housing First projects, to name a few.

While projects like Housing First may not be suitable for every community, it is certainly a unique approach to dealing with a complicated issue. Currently, Florida has one of the most concentrated homeless populations in the nation. As cities within Florida and the state as a whole continue to battle this issue, it may be wise to look outside the state’s border, to a variety of programs that are being implemented to combat homelessness. While no solution will work for every community, Florida can certainly learn from programs that are working.
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