Homelessness: Myths vs Facts

Myths vs. Facts about Homelessness in the Spokane Area

The 2011 Point In Time (PIT) count recorded:

  • 22, 619 homeless individuals in the state of Washington. Over the course of the year, the total number of homeless persons in the state is estimated to be 40 to 50 thousand or more.
  • 1,273 Homeless people within the City of Spokane. Including 274 families, 546 individuals, and six families without adults in the household (2011 Report to the Commerce).

The 2010 census revealed that 65,675 persons are living below the Federal Poverty Line in Spokane County. For a family of four, that means surviving on less than $23,000 annually (Washington Low Income Housing Alliance).

 

Myth #1: Homeless persons can easily emergency shelter beds.

Fact: House of Charity, Hope House, and St. Margaret’s homeless shelters are filled every night, and over 900 people were turned away in 2010 due to capacity issues just at those three shelters (Spokane Regional Governance meeting, December 2011).

Fact: Many family shelters have waiting lists of 3 months or longer.

Fact: The Salvation Army is full every night.

Fact: SNAP’s family shelter is continually full to capacity and regularly has more than 20 applicants any time there is an opening.

 

Myth #2: People are homeless by choice

Fact: Untreated and under-treated mental illness is the single largest factor driving individuals into poverty.  Of the 70,000 people served each year by Catholic Charities, at least 70% identify a mental health issue as a reason they sought help.  So far this year Spokane Mental Health has seen a 20% increase in the number of assessments for involuntary psychiatric hospitalization. (Spokane Regional Governance meeting, December 2011).

Fact: According to the 2009 Annual Update for Spokane’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the top five most commonly reported causes of homelessness were lost job, family break-up, eviction due to non-paid rent, domestic violence, and mental illness.

 

Myth #3: There are enough housing resources available for everyone who is seeking housing

Fact: Spokane Housing Authority received 3,900 applications for the 2011 Section 8 Lottery for only 2,500 spots.

Fact: The Housing Authority is just finished serving the last 170 applicants from the 2008 Section 8 Lottery, and started on the 2011 Lottery in April 2012. It can take up to 3 years from the time a client fills out an application to the time they get housed.

 

Myth #4: Kids don’t experience homelessness

Fact: Spokane School District reported 987 homeless youth in the 2011-2012 school year representing a 64% increase in active students served at this same time last year. (Spokane School District McKinney-Vento Liaison).

Fact: Central Valley School District reported 408 homeless youth already in the 2011-2012 school year, which is 24 more students than the entire 2010-2011 school year. (Central Valley McKinney-Vento Homeless Liaison).

Fact: Spokane Valley has had a 297.2% increase in homeless youth over the last 10 years. (The Current, February 2012)

Fact: One third of the homeless in Spokane are children and the number of homeless families with children has increased 38% in the past five years (Spokane Regional Governance meeting, December 2011).

 

Myth #5: It is too expensive to end homelessness; the poor will always be with us.

Fact: People experiencing homelessness are more likely to access the most costly health care services. According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, homeless people spent an average of four days longer per hospital visit than comparable non-homeless people. The extra cost, approximately $2,414 per hospitalization, is attributable to homelessness (National Alliance to End Homelessness).

Fact: Homeless persons spend more time in jail or prison often as a result of laws specifically targeting the homeless population (i.e. regulations against loitering, sleeping in cars, pan handling etc.). According to a University of Texas two-year survey of homeless individuals, each person cost the taxpayers $14,480 per year, primarily for overnight jail (National Alliance to End Homelessness).

Fact: A recent evaluation of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center (a Housing First residence) serving clients with severe alcohol problems and mental and medical conditions, revealed that, with all costs considered, the participants in the program cost $2,449 LESS per person per month than those in conventional city shelters.

 

Sources:

  • Larimer, M. E., Malone, D. K., Garner, M. D., Atkins, D. C., Burlingham, B., Lonczak, H. S., Tanzer, K., …Marlatt, G. A. (2009). Health Care and public service use and costs before and after provision of housing for chronically homeless persons with severe alcohol problems. The journal of the American Medical Association, 301,13. Retrieved from: http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/301/13/1349.full.pdf+html.
  • Salit S.A., Kuhn E.M., Hartz A.J., Vu J.M., Mosso A.L. (1998). Hospitalization costs associated with homelessness in New York City. New England Journal of Medicine,338, 1734-1740.

Serving the Homeless