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New Hawaii bill wants doctors to prescribe housing to the homeless

It would classify homelessness as a medical condition

Aerial view over Honolulu
Aerial view over Honolulu

It costs less money to give someone a house than to pay for the negative health effects of homelessness. At least, that’s the hypothesis of Hawaii state senator and physician Josh Green.

As an emergency room doctor, Green witnessed homeless patients repeatedly receive expensive but basic medical treatments. After looking into the state’s numbers, Green found that more than a billion dollars—half the state’s Medicaid coverage—was spent on only a small number of individuals, many of whom were homeless, mentally ill, or addicted to drugs. The per-person healthcare costs of treating these individuals was $120,000 a year, while housing them would cost just $18,000 a year.

These findings led Green to propose a groundbreaking bill allowing doctors to prescribe housing for patients suffering from mental illness or drug addiction who have been homeless for six months or more.

“We’re already spending the money on homeless people, we’re just paying for it in the most inefficient, expensive way possible,” Green told The Guardian. “We have a lot of capacity, but lack the political will.”

However, critics of the bill say that many mentally ill homeless people will simply abandon housing even if it’s given to them. “Nine out of 10 will just walk away and go back outside,” said Kimo Carvalho, a spokesman for the Institute for Human Services.

The bill is up for vote later this week.

Via: The Guardian