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Giving Apartments to Homeless People

For many years, the brilliant social engineer and futurist Jacque Fresco kept making the argument that it would be far cheaper to give everyone in society what they needed for free instead of maintaining artificial scarcity in our current capitalistic system of exploitation. The long-term cost to all of society that are associated with the latter case are far greater.

Here’s an article on Bloomberg with a very nice example showing that Fresco was on to something. From “America’s Largest Health Insurer Is Giving Apartments to Homeless People” (November 5th 2019):

As a society, we’ve effectively decided that people shouldn’t die on the street, but it’s acceptable for them to live there. There are more than half a million homeless in the U.S., about a third of them unsheltered—that is, living on streets, under bridges, or in abandoned properties. When they need medical care or simply a bed and a meal, many go to the emergency room. That’s where America has drawn the line: We’ll pay for a hospital bed but not for a home, even when the home would be cheaper.

Jeffrey Brenner is trying to move that line. He’s a doctor who for more than 25 years has worked largely with the poor, many of them homeless.

Sitting in a vacant studio apartment on the second floor of one of the complexes, Brenner shows me data on a patient named Steve, a 54-year-old with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, heart disease, and diabetes. He was homeless before UnitedHealth got him into an apartment. In the 12 months prior to moving in, Steve went to the ER 81 times, spent 17 days hospitalized, and had medical costs, on average, of $12,945 per month. In the nine months since he got a roof over his head and health coaching from Brenner’s team, Steve’s average monthly medical expenses have dropped more than 80%, to $2,073.

Patients like Steve wind up in the ER because they don’t fit into the ways we deliver health care. The U.S. system is engineered to route billions of dollars to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and labs to diagnose and treat patients once they’re sick. It’s not set up to keep vulnerable people housed, clothed, and nourished so they’ll be less likely to get sick in the first place.

There you have it; by simply giving the homeless a nice place to live, the cost to society dropped significantly.

Many people would object to simply providing others, in this case the homeless, with the basic necessities of life, often claiming that they’d be freeloaders and wouldn’t deserve it. As the above example shows, it actually costs everyone less to do so. Not to mention all the other benefits we might get in society because of it, like making these people healthy participants in society again who could eventually contribute back in other ways. Poor people don’t want to stay in their situation; the fact is that it is often extremely difficult for them to get out of poverty due to constantly living in survival mode.

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