This study is the first statewide cost of homelessness data collection effort in the nation to be conducted in a rural setting. This report contains information pertaining to the cost and frequency of services used by people with disabilities who were homeless before entering a permanent housing program. This study reinforces Maine’s positive work while offering data to support Maine in continued leadership to develop strategies to end homelessness. Our goal is to provide crucial information to those creating policy in Maine and other States about the real cost of rural homelessness for people with disabilities. We seek to help individual communities better understand the financial impact of homelessness on their resources and to assist our public officials by providing data to be used in the difficult task of how to allocate limited resources.
The crisis of homelessness in Maine has lasted thirty years and resulted in millions of dollars being spent on shelters, emergency services, and corrections for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Based on self-report 28% of people who are homeless also struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders, a fact that makes finding stable housing and needed community supports especially challenging in difficult economic times. Most shelter providers report a higher percentage of persons experiencing mental illness living in shelters based on their observation and professional assessment throughout the years.
There has been a significant State commitment to work toward ending homelessness. Efforts are underway to direct resources towards strategies aimed at developing affordable housing built on evidence-based practices demonstrated to assist individuals and families in finding and maintaining stable housing. Studies around the country have consistently found that permanent supportive housing is effective in helping people with disabilities remain stably housed once they move out of homeless situations. Studies comparing the cost of homelessness and the cost of permanent supportive housing conducted in urban areas around the country have consistently found that permanent supportive housing also costs less than leaving people homeless. These studies have had varied results depending on the population and methodology used, ranging from enormous savings to a general shifting of costs within communities. However, it is clear that permanent supportive housing can be cost-effective and, more importantly, works as an effective strategy in the effort to end the blight of homelessness for people with disabilities. (authors)