health care costs can be reduced when homeless people with severe alcohol problems are given housing without having to give up drinking.
“Our study suggests that homeless alcoholics who qualify to take part in Housing First can stay out of jails and emergency rooms, and cost the taxpayer a lot less money as a result,” said Mary E. Larimer, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Washington and lead author of the study. “We also found that these benefits increase over time and that they are possible without requiring that participants stop drinking. And yet, the longer the participants stay in the housing program, the less they drink.”
Mary E. Larimer, Ph.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues studied 95 homeless people with severe alcohol problems that had been given housing under the Housing First program. They were compared with 39 persons that were on the waiting list as controls.
The cost of those being housed dropped from $4,066 a month to $1,462 in six months and then to $958 within a year of housing. The investigation showed the the housed subjects have lower costs of 53 percent over the first six months compared to those in the control study.
Modern Medicine reports:
“These findings support the basic premise of Housing First: providing housing to individuals who remain actively addicted to alcohol, without conditions such as abstinence or treatment attendance, can reduce the public burden associated with overuse of crisis services and reduce alcohol consumption,” the authors write. “Findings support strategies to retain these individuals in housing, including offering on-site medical and mental health services, supportive case managers, and minimal rules and regulations pertaining to their housing.”
The total cost for all 95 participants over one year was $8,175,922. This is cost of alcohol and drug detoxification and treatment, emergency medical services, Medicaid-funded services, jail bookings and days in jail.
After the one year mark the cost went down to $4,094,291 for the 95 participants members of the study.
Compared to those on the waiting list those in housing also decreased their daily drinking by 2 percent.
Seattle PI reports that the Housing First program has proved to be very successful.
“This is an extraordinarily successful program,” said Ron Sims, the outgoing King County Executive. He admitted Tuesday that he was among the many initial skeptics of the program, and that he had been concerned about it “enabling” alcoholism. He reluctantly allowed the county to fund it, with an initial investment of $2 million, followed by $240,000 a year in operational support.
“It was a doggone good thing to do,” he said. “Our return on investment has exceeded any expectation.”