Los Angeles County's investment in permanent supportive housing for homeless people with complex medical and behavioral health issues resulted in an overall savings to local government, according to a RAND Corporation study released Tuesday.
The study found that the use of emergency medical services and inpatient hospital care saw particularly large drops among those enrolled in the county's House for Health program, and that for every $1 invested in the program, Los Angeles County government saved $1.20 in health care and other social service costs.
The study said it is the largest savings ever found in a housing program for individuals experiencing homelessness.
"These findings suggest that a permanent supportive housing program that targets people who are both homeless and are frequent users of county health services is feasible and may save local government money overall," said Sarah Hunter, lead author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "It will be important to continue to examine the effort as it scales up to help even more people."
The report is likely to be praised by city and county leaders who have backed several propositions approved by voters last year to raise significant amounts of money for homeless housing and services, including Proposition HHH, which is projected to raise $1.2 billion for supportive housing for the homeless in the city of Los Angeles, and Prop H, which is estimated will raise $355 million annually for 10 years for homeless programs in the county.
The Housing for Health program was started by the the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services in 2012 with funding from public agencies and philanthropic groups. The RAND study is based on experiences of 890 people who received housing and support during the first two years of the program.
The study found that participants made an average of 1.64 fewer emergency room visits in the year after enrolling in the program and hospital stays decreased by more than four days. The number of months participants received General Relief from the county declined by an average of 1.38 months.
The number of arrests also declined among participants, although the number of days spent in jail was greater after receiving housing.
Across all the services examined by researchers, the costs for public services consumed in the year after receipt of permanent supportive housing declined by nearly 60 percent.
"These savings are substantially higher than what has been seen in other cities and suggest that Los Angeles County officials have succeeded in implementing this model," Hunter said. "Oftentimes, these programs strive to 'break even' in terms of costs and only exhibit cost savings among the most vulnerable, while the Los Angeles program shows considerable savings across a diverse population."
Researchers caution that their study examines only services associated with six county departments over a two-year period and may not represent a full accounting of all potential costs and benefits.
The study, "Evaluation of Housing for Health Permanent Supportive Housing Program," is available at www.rand.org.