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Study: Homeless prevention less costly

WASHINGTON — Preventing homelessness with rent subsidies is more cost effective than spending on programs to combat the problem, according to a study released Thursday by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study looked at the costs associated with first-time homelessness.

The costs to states and communities of providing housing and services to the homeless in six diverse communities across the United States ranged from $581 per month for an individual at an emergency shelter in Des Moines, Iowa, to $3,530 per month for a family at an emergency shelter in Washington, D.C.

In almost every case, the per-household costs for providing services at shelters, transitional housing or permanent housing were greater than the fair-market rent on a two-bedroom apartment in the same region.

The study also included Jacksonville; Houston; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and an area of upstate South Carolina.

“That’s exactly what we face here,” said Adell Erozer, the executive director of Manatee County’s Community Coalition on Homelessness. “Our preference is to keep them in housing for several reasons: they’re already there, the kids are going to school, they have their transportation worked out. ... What happens is if they have to move out, then you have utility deposits, security deposits, plus you have moving expenses.”

The studies come in advance of a 2011 policy change that will give communities more flexibility in how they use federal homeless funds, according to HUD officials. HUD spends $500 million per year to support homelessness programs.

“The studies we’re releasing today help inform us on how communities can move the ball down the field to reduce and eventually end this problem,” said Mark Johnston, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for special needs assistance.

The federal government has committed $1.5 billion of Recovery Act funds for Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing assistance.

The program is designed to help individuals or families at risk of eviction by offering help with rent payments or utility bills.

Erozer said her organization has distributed about $30,000 of Manatee County’s rapid rehousing funds to help about 25 local households avoid homelessness.

But Erozer said a large amount of paperwork and several regulation changes have limited the effectiveness of the program.

“I would not say it’s been rapid rehousing,” she said. “I’m hoping they have got the kinks worked out and that it will flow a little more smoothly.”

The study did not rate the effectiveness of the homeless programs, many of which offer treatment for mental health, substance abuse or domestic violence, which often can be the cause of homelessness.

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