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Apartment rents cheaper than stays in

homeless shelters
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By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY

Cities, states and the federal government pay more to provide

the homeless with short-term shelter and services than what it
would cost to rent permanent housing, the U.S. government

A study of 9,000 families and individuals being released today by

the Department of Housing and Urban Development finds that
costs to house the newly homeless vary widely, depending on
the type of shelter and social services provided by the six cities
in the report.
Enlarge By Anne Ryan, USA TODAY
Emergency shelter for families was the most costly. In
Donlaya McCullum, 26, gets her children ready to head Washington, D.C., the average bill for a month in an emergency
to a doctor appointment from Olive Branch Mission, shelter ranges from $2,500 to $3,700. In Houston, the average is
Chicago's oldest homeless mission.

Many communities probably don't know that they are spending

as much "to maintain a cot in a gymnasium with 100 other cots"
as it would cost to rent an efficiency apartment, says Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor who
studies housing policies. "We are paying for a form of housing that is largely substandard, and we are paying as
much, if not more, than standard conventional housing."

He says the report bolsters a move by the Obama administration to focus on helping the homeless get permanent
housing. The federal stimulus act last year set aside $1.5 billion to prevent homelessness by helping people pay
rent, utility bills, moving costs or security deposits.

Nationwide, 1.6 million homeless people received shelter in 2008, according to government figures.

The new study does not look at the cost-effectiveness or quality of the programs. Costs to shelter first-time
homeless people varied based on the type of shelter and other services provided, how long they stayed and
overhead. Shelters may offer drug and alcohol treatment, mental health care, family counseling and help obtaining
government benefits.

Mark Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of HUD, says the report should prompt communities to lower costs by
targeting people with only the services they need and to improve aid for those who repeatedly become homeless.

"We saw higher costs and longer lengths of stay than expected," he says. The longest average stay for individuals
was 73 days in Des Moines. The longest average stay for families was 309 days in Washington.

"We do not want people to languish in emergency shelter," Johnston says.

Neil Donovan of the National Coalition for the Homeless says the report is limited because it covered 2004 through
2006. It doesn't include families who became homeless in the recession. 3/25/2010
Apartment rents cheaper than stays in homeless shelters - Page 2 of 2

"A lot of things have become very different in the last couple of years," he says. "If it's used to a greater degree
than a conversation starter, it will be used to a greater degree than it's worth."


A study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development finds that the average monthly cost to house the
homeless varies widely.


Des Moines Jacksonville Houston

Emergency shelter $581 $799 $968

Transitional housing $1,386 $870 $1,654

Market-rate, one-bedroom apt. $549 $643 $612


Kalamazoo, Greenville,
Houston Washington
Mich. S.C.
Emergency shelter $1,391 $1,614 $2,269 $3,530

Transitional housing $3,340 $813 $1,209 $2,170

Market-rate rent, two-bedroom

$743 $612 $599 $1,225

Source: HUD


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