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Editorial: Implement homeless program in Johnson County

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 26, 2015 5:00 AM

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An initiative has been presented to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors with the goal of combating the problematic homelessness in the county that has not been solved by other programs.

Phoebe Trepp, the program-development director at Shelter House in Iowa City, made a presentation on a program called Frequent Users System Engagement. It would offer housing to a relatively small minority of the homeless community, approximately 4 percent, who find themselves consistently without housing despite repeated attempts at rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

The motivating factor in this program is the belief that implementing this program will cut down on the expenses accumulated by this percentage of the homeless community. Providing housing may reduce the amount of money Johnson County spends on the homeless community in terms of medical care, necessitated shelter, and law enforcement. In this sense the program would be killing two birds with one stone by providing stability to an underserved portion of the community and alleviating the financial burden placed on the county that averages about $138,070 a year per person.

It is important to note that this program is not designed for rehabilitation and does not mandate a change in behavior for those accessing the program. Yet simply providing a stable living environment has been shown to reduce expenses in terms of unpaid services. In the case of Hennepin County, Minnesota, in 2008, the amount of money in services spent on six homeless people dropped from $95,000 to $16,000 after only a year of implementing the program. Similar results have been found in San Diego with a program called Project 25, which saw an average decrease in costs from $120,000 to $44,400.

Iowa City would be an ideal place to implement this program, given the expenses placed on the county with temporary fixes and half-measures. A more permanent solution is needed and one that will benefit both the county and the people in need of assistance. The Iowa City City Council recently approved a $20,000 allocation for a temporary homeless shelter, and while this is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem. Implicit in the title is the word temporary, and continuing to implement programs that treat the symptoms but not the cause of the problem will only prolong the search for truly sustainable solutions. It is a basic human right to have shelter even though it is a difficult right to guarantee. Those in a position to help the less fortunate have a responsibility to contribute their assistance, because otherwise, the situation will only grow and become pervasive.


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