Ending homelessness – the Utah way!

Republican Utah would house the author of this sign. Conservative Britain would not.

Republican Utah would house the author of this sign. Conservative Britain would not.

How much does it cost to keep a homeless person out of hospital or jail, and to feed them?

That is the question that Utah’s state government asked, and when they discovered it was more than it would cost to house these people, the people’s representatives made the obvious choice.

Homelessness in Utah dropped by 78 per cent in the eight years to January 2014, and was on track to be eradicated altogether by this year.

But you won’t see a Conservative member of Parliament advocating such a policy! Why is that?

“In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of Emergency Room [hospital] visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker”, according to Nation of Change.

“So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.

“It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. Using a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists, the report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.”

Here in the UK, we have a lot of social housing becoming available as the Bedroom Tax takes its toll, and a consequently-rising level of homelessness – meaning that British Conservatives have missed the point of the Utah programme altogether.

Perhaps they don’t have figures showing it is cheaper to house the homeless than to kick them onto the streets. It certainly seems unlikely that the overworked NHS take care to note down every single homeless person receiving treatment – and any conclusions we draw from the remarkable rise in Accident & Emergency admissions since the Tory-led government started its pogrom against social housing would be drawing on very iffy evidence.

Perhaps they want to develop the now-empty social housing into expensive homes for the very rich. This certainly seems to be happening in London. Even developments that are forced to include affordable housing have done so by segregation – adding divisive “poor doors” so that rich and poor neighbours need never meet each other.

Perhaps they simply want to hurt poor people.

This seems the most likely.

We have seen other Conservative policies that push up the cost to the taxpayer. Without taking homelessness into consideration, the cost of the Bedroom Tax has always been more than it saved. Labour has shown that the increase in tuition fees will cost the UK nearly £300 billion by 2030, with the state having to write off an additional £2 billion in student debt every year. Universal Credit, and the cuts to social security benefits, deserve to have books written about the shocking mismanagement they have suffered.

It can’t be about saving money, you see. One of the most right-wing states in one of the most right-wing countries in the world started running a social housing programme in the knowledge that it would save money for taxpayers, so the Tories can’t suggest that’s what they’re doing.

It has to be spite.

Why, then, do British voters – especially the English – support such behaviour? This kind of aggression can be directed at anybody, and there is only so much money and humiliation that can be wrung from people on benefits and the disabled (the Tories’ most recent targets).

Pensioners have been lined up as the next targets. They dominate the DWP’s social security spending, taking 68 per cent of the total amount.

Who’s next?

You, maybe.

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  1. jray March 1, 2015 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    Mike,excuse my language,it is so f***ing obvious and you/Utah are right! But where is the profit? If the WP Providers actually provided training people might actually get jobs,thus reducing the need of the WP,that is just not good business,rather than expanding they would be reducing their operations,which brings the whole so called Jobs growth into question,as I said obvious!

  2. M de Mowbray March 1, 2015 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    I cannot understand how and why the Tories so clearly want to import all the worst US practices, businesses, policies and attitudes and give them every possible assistance to take us over, pay minimal pay, give zero hours contracts and pay no tax.

    Yet every so oten there is a genuinely GOOD idea or company in USA and you can almost guarantee that the Tories will be dead against it. At a time when USA was finally considering heath care provision for the less well off, the Tories decide to go the other way. We get all of the worst of USA and little of the best, and that includes GENUINE freedom of information.

  3. The Infamous Culex March 1, 2015 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    The state of Utah is run by Mormons.

    The Tory led coalition is run by morons.

    That’s the difference!

  4. Nigel Craddock March 1, 2015 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    What a superb piece, Mike. Seems like a dream – ‘If Only’ :-)

  5. jaypot2012 March 1, 2015 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Such a simple idea and easy to do. However, the governor of Utah and his crew are using common sense, not something that the coalition knows much about over here – as well as most politicians it seems.

  6. Tim March 1, 2015 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    At first sight, it seems a simple economic argument. But it isn’t really that simple. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that there are many within the Tory party who would dismiss the notion of such a policy from pure malice, many with far more moderate views would have reasonable qualms about its adoption.

    Because there are so many victims of the current regime who have been made homeless through little or no fault of their own, it is easy to forget that there are also those in that situation who are far from blameless. If we were to extend this level of assistance to everyone purely because it seems cheaper, we might easily create a system where it would be in the interest of many who are currently struggling but just about keeping their heads above water to simply stop paying rent and other bills, get evicted and then be quickly rehoused. Becoming homeless becomes a gateway into social housing and extra assistance; a strategy for jumping the queue. Whilst the Utah policy might save money in the short-term, I’m not convinced it would continue to be cost-effective for long. Before we can adopt such a policy, we need to look at how best to provide assistance to people before they reach the crisis of actually losing their home. And while the bedroom tax has certainly led to an increase in homelessness, there is still a shortage of social housing in most areas. So if we are to even begin to properly address the rise in homelessness we need to build a lot more: something Ed Miliband has pledged to do if Labour win in May.

    I agree with you about what has been happening in London, although I think the motives are even more sinister. There has been a drive to relocate poorer people (likely Labour voters) out of London boroughs into other areas – generally safe Labour seats. As you say, they are seeking to replace social housing with homes for the rich. I see this as another form of gerrymandering; a shameless and cynical ploy to gain more London seats and set up the capital as an impregnable Tory powerbase which it will be nigh impossible for Labour to reverse.

    • Mike Sivier March 2, 2015 at 12:59 am - Reply

      I think the Utah programme has safeguards against the kind of manipulation you suggest; it is a Republican state, remember – these people aren’t going to be railroaded easily. Other than that, you make some interesting points.

  7. amnesiaclinic March 1, 2015 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Good piece, thanks!

    It makes so much sense but so would a decent citizen’s income. Steve Keene has costed the tax for any trading which would mean there was enough money for all decent public services and abolish all other taxes!

    Imaginative schemes for refurbishing buildings like pubs which are closing at a huge rate into single and family units with the work being carried out for decent wages by young people giving jobs, training and skills in one fell swoop.

    Pity most politicians lack any imagination!


  8. Bookmanwales March 2, 2015 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    There are no long term aims for a Tory government. Short term gains for their investor buddies is the name of the game. Selling off as much housing stock as possible in the shortest length of time is the plan.
    Once the Tories have robbed the country blind, been seen for exactly what they are and kicked out of office the damage will already have been done as we saw with Maggie’s lot.

    Social housing had already fallen massively when Maggie and co left, and now Camoron and Co wish to finish the job once and for all.

    Any social problems left for Labour to repair ( of which there will probably be many !!) can then be used to beat Labour supporters with at the next election as “excessive spending” and the cycle will repeat.

    The public at large have a limited attention span and what the Tories did in the 80’s was forgotten in 2010 and by the next election what they do now will also be forgotten.

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