Editorials

Turning Points a valuable community asset

Turning Points’ new medical director, Dr. Ron Cirillo, second from left, speaks with, from left, Alejandro Vazquez of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Caleb Streitmatter of Riverview High School and Cassidy Nern of Sarasota Military Academy.
Turning Points’ new medical director, Dr. Ron Cirillo, second from left, speaks with, from left, Alejandro Vazquez of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Caleb Streitmatter of Riverview High School and Cassidy Nern of Sarasota Military Academy. rdymond@bradenton.com

Surprised, shocked, even stunned.

Sketchy, skeptical, even surreal.

How else to look at the multimillion dollar economic value to a community of a what would seem like a drain on taxpayers, neighborhoods and everything else: a homeless center. Yet a ground-breaking research project validates that conclusion — to a sum that is truly mind-boggling.

The University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business study by graduate students and professors calculated the community value of Turning Points and the Bill Galvano One Stop Center in dollars and cents. The total value the study found, a return on a low, low investment, totaled more than $43 million.

That reads absurd when thinking how do the homeless contribute to society in a positive way. In a backward way, they do, not by themselves but by the community’s response to their plight. By taxpayers savings. By higher property values near homeless service centers. By a healthier quality of life for the homeless.

How? Here’s how, the study found.

First, though, one of the Turning Points directors, John McKay, a former state Senate president and a major advocate for homeless services, articulated this point about the study: “The economic benefits are rather staggering.” He and Turning Points Executive Director Adell Erozer presented the study to the Herald last week. “Yes, I can say I was stunned,” Erozer stated then.

For very good reason.

Those USF business students and professors came to town from the school’s Tampa campus and dug deep into the records of Turning Points and many other records from around the country. Their 40-page report — “An Integrated Design-Centric Valuation of Social Goods: Turning Points and the Case of Homelessness” — sets a national precedent about the financial value of homeless centers on a community. It is an eye-opening view about how people in a community support a charity that has a simple mission, one that every other charity serves, people in need. In this particular case, it’s the homeless and near homeless.

The profoundly stirring USF research project — kudos for conducting that — took a deep analytical look at Turning Points accounting books from 2014. Every piece of data came into their calculations, good, bad and ugly, eight months of study. Minus the $2.4 million Turning Points budget (money from donations and government grants), the $43 million community bonus breaks down this way:

This is the most surprising, neigh stunning, number:

$22 million saved in taxpayer money from medical treatment at the homeless center instead of hospital emergency rooms and inpatient hospitalization — plus the high cost of incarceration (the average stay of a homeless individual behind bars is 40 days, a state study found). Those are all huge expenses, all at the heart of the indigent care crisis haunting Manatee County government and thus taxpayers. Taxpayers save $2,800 a day on each and every ER visit a day for the individuals who should and could have been treated at Turning Points, which is an amazing place that offers health care free thanks to volunteer medical professionals and others, in particular the graduate students of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch.

Another quite perplexing figure is also based on solid research, according to the USF findings: $19.75 million in the increased property tax valuations and government property tax revenue gained from proximity to Turning Points. That sounds counter-intuitive. Who’d want to conduct business or reside near people wandering the streets, likely panhandling and otherwise annoying and intimidating everyone? But that’s what the study found about homeless centers, a positive impact that just confounds reason.

Here’s how, the researchers discovered that:.Quantifying the figure took a comparison with other Florida counties and their number of homeless organizations — being one or more, more being better — and the resulting property value increase over time. Shockingly, that result showed the closest properties to a homeless center like Turning Points rose in value by 1 percent, but that translated into

$18 million in extra real estate valuation and an additional $1.75 million in property tax revenue locally.

An expert in these kinds of numbers — Byron Shinn, a certified public accountant and owner of Shinn & Co. in Bradenton and a member of the USF Board of Trustees who encouraged the School of Business to conduct the study — told the Herald that the researchers found a direct correlation in the impact of property values with homeless programs and thus could quantify the valuations. The study cautioned that other positives could apply, here, we propose, could be McKechnie Field, microbreweries and other neighborhood improvements.

Another economic impact component is the most squishy number — labeled a public cost savings: quality of life, estimated at $1.5 million. That value — from job training and employment to a healthier lifestyle — is difficult to measure in dollars but the USF researchers came up with a formula. Life without diabetes, tobacco and other life-shortening lifestyle limitations as well as job income must be better, and Turning Points shines in these types of programs.

Now Turning Points can quantify its value to the community, though there was never any doubt about its contribution to society. The USF study serves as confirmation of the organization’s financial worth and should inspire greater support from all corners of the county.

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