Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The High Cost of Homelessness

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The High Cost of Homelessness

Article excerpt

Social issue impacts businesses, government and taxpayers

A community's interest in preventing homelessness and mitigating its effects tends to focus on the social value of those efforts.

That has been the case recently in Sarasota County, where the momentum is building to create and implement a strategic, comprehensive plan for tackling homelessness. For example, phrases like "doing the right thing," "tough love" and "transformational aid" have been liberally sprinkled throughout public gatherings on the topic.

But reducing homelessness isn't only a cause for bleeding hearts; it's for businesses, officials and taxpayers with eyes on economics and numbers.

Some economic impacts of homelessness are difficult to determine. But think back to last winter, when the increased number of street- level homeless people peaked and panhandlers seemed to be stationed at every prominent intersection.

Did those conditions promote the perception of public safety, especially in the urban core where homeless people are generally more visible?

No.

Did they have positive effects on nearby restaurants and retail establishments?

No.

On the tourism and real estate industries?

Of course not.

To the contrary, many city businesses and residents viewed the increase in homeless people as a deterrent to shoppers and diners, and detrimental to living downtown.

Figures to consider

Here are just a few figures to consider about other economic impacts:

- During a 16-month period ending in April, nearly 24 percent of the arrests (1,855 out of 7,834) made by Sarasota Police officers involved transients, according to a report released in May by City Manager Tom Barwin. Each of those arrests required a substantial investment of time by officers and, usually, a trip to the county jail.

- The average daily cost of housing an inmate is $73, according to Sheriff Tom Knight. …

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