For those who are homeless, “the basic level of needs are shelter, water and a sense of belonging.…We can’t expect someone to address addiction without having a shelter.” Assistant IPI Director Vanessa Fry spoke these words as she addressed members of the Missoula City Council last Wednesday, January 31. In addition, Fry presented how it is more fiscally responsible for communities to provide these basic needs rather than bear the cost burden associated with people experiencing homelessness.
Fry has done considerable research on chronic homelessness and the associated financial and social costs incurred in the emergency medical, emergency shelter, and criminal justice systems. In Ada County, Idaho, the costs associated with 100 people experiencing chronic homelessness is about $5.3 million in a single year. However, evidence shows that by providing those same 100 people with a home and supportive services the community could avoid costs of nearly $2.7 million annually. This research has spurred a number of positive community impacts.
In fall of 2017, a cross-sector partnership broke ground on New Path Community Housing, a Housing First program that will provide a 40 residential units and supportive services for some of the Ada County’s most vulnerable people. Projected outcomes for clients in the program include a reduction in emergency room visits, reduced interactions with the criminal justice system, and an increase in overall well-being.. Fry and the Idaho Policy Institute are now assisting in the evaluation design for New Path.
Missoula City Council Member Julie Armstrong invited Fry to present at their meeting and provide expertise on the opportunity for a similar Housing First initiative in Missoula. While in Missoula Fry also toured an emergency shelter and also met with two local hospitals, researchers at University of Montana, and other entities involved with housing and homelessness initiatives.