A Curious Twist: Electricity, Homelessness and Taxes

Hmm, 11, 12, 13, 14. I have 14 devices plugged into electrical outlets in my home office. Look wherever you are now. How many devices? Phone chargers, wireless speakers, lamps, printers dishwashers, blood pressure monitors, Pelotons, blah, blah, blah. How many? These items, even when not in use, are pulling small amounts of electricity that costs is $19 billion annually. Now hold that thought for a moment.

The homeless population, which has steadily increased over the last 6 years, took a large jump during covid. Yes, there were some bans on evictions and some aid but that helped only a small fraction. The leading causes of homelessness is inability to pay rent, loss of employment and abuse. With a nationwide shutdown, women and children become homeless because of abuse and there were not enough shelters to keep up with demand.

Covid 19 was a national emergency. Resources were directed at prevention, containment, and mitigation. It took a while to determine and develop prevention, vaccinations and treatments, but once established, policy was put in place that lead to the decrease in hospitalizations and deaths when practiced. So far, the US death toll from covid is 615,034. By comparison, there are over 580,000 people experiencing homelessness in the US. We know what it takes to prevent, contain, and mitigate homelessness. So, what is being done or rather not done?

Let’s start with the optics. Many think of the homeless as addicts, those with drug and alcohol problems and “don’t give them money, they will spend it to get high.” The homeless teens in the streets are not delinquent runaways; children placed in foster care age out of the system at 18, and often find themselves without shelter. While we all can bemoan and watch as housing prices and rents rise, what of seniors with a fixed income? What happens when they get priced out? There is an elderly gentleman I’d see, sweeping in front of his tent, then sitting out in his chair. We’d exchange pleasantries when I walked by. To see him with a fresh hospital bracelet on his wrist one day was sobering. The homeless have more health issues which forces them to the emergency room and 80% of these visits could have been avoided with preventative care. People like to think of homelessness as a choice, as a lifestyle. I saw a little girl peep out of a tent a couple of years ago. She smiled at me; we were both wearing leopard print. It was not her choice to be in a tent with her stuffed animals.

The enormity of the problem seems overwhelming. Yet, there is a solution that has proven to work. Permanent Supported Housing (PSH). This approach provides housing and social services. A chronically homeless person costs the taxpayers $35,578 a year because of health and law enforcement services involved. When placed in Permanent Supported Housing (PSH,), the cost is $12,800 a year. With the total cost of PSH factored in, the tax payer costs per person is reduced by more than half. The cost for Permanent Supportive Housing is $20 billion a year.  The math works, but we’re back to the optics.

“I don’t’ want my tax dollars going to…. ” I can hear it now. To those I say, let’s get real. “How much did you pay in taxes and have you seen the breakdown of the federal budget?” The current US budget is 4.4 trillion dollars annually. Permanent Supportive Housing is 20 billion dollars which is .02 trillion dollars and would be .0045% of the entire budget. So, if you paid $50,000 in taxes, $227 would go to fight homelessness while $8,000 goes to defense. We hear the opinion, well, if they are supported, what is the incentive?

That is a whole belief system beyond the scope of this post, that I will address with just this. Give the majority of your fellow human beings some credit for being decent people. Look at who is homeless. Where is your humanity? During crisis, fires, and floods there are entire programs devoted to saving pets. There are laws against abusing animals, people are criminally prosecuted for cruelty to animals.

Last year, Americans spent 99 billion dollars on all things pet. 20 billion dollars to combat homelessness should not even be up for debate. The 19 billion dollars a year bill for electricity being drained from plugged in devices is paid without question and without blame. Can we do this for the homeless? This week consider, if it is financially prudent to eliminate homelessness and also the moral thing to do, why is it not happening?

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