The cost of homelessness - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

The cost of homelessness

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Every year in Louisiana, advocates for the homeless take a survey asking anyone who slept in a shelther or on the street January 27. Various information including physical health status, mental health, income, and length of time without shelter. The census tells homeless groups who is in the most need.

For the past nine months, KTBS 3 News has followed one man,  who we'll call John Smith in this story. Smith was named Louisiana's Number One Most Vulnerable Homeless resident in both 2011 and 2012.

"He has run-ins with the law. He's in and out of mental health facilities and uses a lot of city, state and federal resources," said Christa Pazzaglia or HOPE for the Homeless.

Smith had a home during the 2013 survey,  but found himself without shelter again March 27th last year-- a situation that lasted almost nine months.

"We drive by them everyday going to work. We drive by them. You walk past homeless people everyday and never know that they're even there," said Ryan Park. He's the  group's Outreach Coordinator.

Smith is a veteran in his mid 50's. Among other things he suffers from Schizophrenia, drug dependencies and has been homeless off-and-on for twenty years.

"He has more issues than anyone we've ever encountered.  He did not choose this life. He did not choose to be mentally ill. He did not choose to be developmentally disabled. He did not choose a family that steals from him, said Pazzaglia.

In the past nine months,  Smith's been hospitalized twice for mental reasons. Once with pneumonia.

A 2013 study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show the average charge for in-patient pneumonia treatment was $4,830.27.

"He was in the hospital three days this time. So not long enough to get stabilized on meds, but long enough to meet his immediate needs," said Pazzaglia.

Although he wasn't arrested in 2013, Smith has a dozen charges on his record between Shreveport Police and Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office--mostly on drug and alcohol charges.

Smith's story is not uncommon for the chronically homeless and across the country. Studies show it all adds up for taxpayers.

A 1993 study in New  York City shows hospital visits lasted an average four days longer for homeless people-costing 24-hundred dollars extra per visit.

In Seattle, Washington, a year-long study housing chronically homeless individuals with severe alcohol problems dropped the amount taxpayers were covering from more than$ 4,000 a month to $958 per month.
A 2009 University of Southern California study found placing just four of Los Angeles' chronically homeless people into permanent housing saved the city more than 80-thousand dollars a year and improved their quality of life.

"About 25% of people who are homeless are chronically homeless, but they use 85% of the resources. They're the people you see they're the people who are in and out of jail, in and out of the hospitals that use a lot of resources and cause problems," said Pazzaglia.

Smith moved into his own place again January 11. This time, he's getting daily help paying the bills, taking his medications, and home visits to make sure he's on track.
Pazzaglia says when Smith is mentally healthy and off drugs, he's a different person--even volunteering with the organization.
As for the survey that put Smith as the most vulnerable person in Louisiana, he wasn't included in this year's count because  he has his own home again.
Preliminary results show the top spot will likely be filled by someone outside our area.


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