Shayne Williams

NO FIXED ADDRESS: The cost of caring – $7 billion in government services

Proactive homeless policies would be money better spent, says lookout Emergency Aid Society's executive director.

Everyone is paying a price for the homeless.

Aside from the hardships facing those living on the streets and the efforts of social workers and volunteers to address the issue, there is also a heavy economic impact – one which comes with a national price tag estimated at $7 billion a year.

“There is not just the cost of caring for them,” says executive director Shayne Williams of the Lookout Society, which provides housing and support services in Metro Vancouver, including Surrey. “There is the cost of not caring for them.”

Williams uses numbers pulled from a 2014 study (State of Homelessness in Canada) by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network (CHRN) to back up his statement.

The report pegged the average health care costs of a homeless person at $4,714 a year, compared to the $2,633 in publicly financed health care services for an average adult Canadian.

It also said the cost of accommodating one person in social housing can be as low as $199 a month, compared to $701 for rent supplements, $4,333 in a provincial jail and $10,900 for a hospital bed.

“We’re wasting money incarcerating people,” says Williams. “There isn’t a national housing strategy, and we’re the only G8 country without one.”Shayne Williams quote

Williams cites the story of “Million-Dollar Murray,” an alcoholic who spent more than a decade homeless on the streets of Reno, Nevada, despite several stints in treatment programs. A 15-year police officer who dealt with Murray over the course of his entire career compiled a list of his hospital stays, substance-abuse treatments, doctor’s fees, nights in jail and attached a cost to them over a 10-year period.

“It cost us (Reno) $1 million not to do something about Murray,” the cop says.

Williams argues the merits of pro-actively helping the homeless.

“We have people like Murray in Surrey and across the Lower Mainland… people who have that impact on local government services. It’s better for all of us to help people like Murray and get them the help they need to become better.”

The CHRN report also suggests that not only does chronic homelessness increase the costs to government, but  “those who spend longer periods on the street have a higher likelihood of suffering mental and physical health problems, addictions and disabilities.”

“The faster we help somebody out of homelessness, the better they can recover and move forward in a positive way,” says Williams.

“The longer they are on the street, the more they become accustomed to it, and the harder it is to get them off it.”

NO FIXED ADDRESS: Read the other stories in this Leader special report:

• The homeless: It might not be who you think

• ‘I honestly felt suicide was my only option.’

• ‘I literally have nowhere to go.’

• ‘We’re not drug freaks. We would just love a place to stay.’

• Pushed into despair – and onto the streets

• ‘Once I tried cocaine intravenously, I was done.’

• ‘Everything is a struggle when you don’t have an address.’

• The cost of caring: $7 billion in government services

• ‘ I lost my brother, my mother and my father.’

• ‘Sometimes I would even go to the airport and just pretend I was going somewhere and sleep.’

• Working the NightShift in Surrey

• The solution? In short, more housing






Just Posted

More than 1,000 Surrey rental units at risk if government imposes new policy, Urban Development Institute warns

Survey of 30 rental unit builders indicates 12,631 BC rental homes at risk of delay or cancellation

Peace Arch Hospital Foundation hits $10-million goal

New 200-bed residential facility now fully funded, officials announce

Police renew call to ID suspect who pushed Surrey man into traffic near PNE

VPD haven’t received enough tips in the months since

Filipino Fest at Museum of Surrey draws a crowd

More than 1,500 residents, visitors attend cultural festival

New Surrey councillor is a newer dad

Mandeep Nagra’s son Kabar was born at Surrey Memorial Hospital, four days after the civic election

VIDEO: E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickens 18 people in Ontario, Quebec

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it’s working with U.S. authorities to determine the source of the romaine lettuce those who got ill were exposed to.

Legal battle ahead for suspended B.C. legislature executives

Public removal ‘very unfair,’ says veteran clerk Craig James

B.C. sees biggest spike in homicides across Canada, at 34%

Much of the killing was attributed to gang violence, according to Statistics Canada

Sea lion tangled in rope on Vancouver Island

Marine debris is a ‘significant problem’ for marine wildlife

Postal strike affects charities at critical fundraising time

Canadian fundraising professionals and charities join call for fast resolution

$90,000 pen from space created by B.C man

The Space pen is made from a meteorite

B.C. woman fined $2,300 for clocking 215 km/hr in Alberta

It’s the highest fine Alberta police have issued

5 to start your day

Police try to thwart retaliation after Hells Angels member killed, criminal investigation at B.C. legislature and more

Watchdog calls for probe into police board spending on former Victoria police chief

Police Complaint Commissioner says accountable and transparent review is in public interest

Most Read