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How Homelessness Affects Houston’s Economy

The chairman of a homeless housing nonprofit says housing people is cheaper than doing nothing.

Sanford Criner, executive chairman of New Hope Housing, says housing homeless people costs considerably less than doing nothing.


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Houston has made some big strides in fighting homelessness. The latest count, from January 2018, has 4,143 homeless people living in Houston.

That's down from 8,538 in 2011 — but up slightly from 2016, which can likely be attributed to Hurricane Harvey.

Though homeless people can have a deterrent effect for visitors or potential businesses in an area, Sanford Criner, executive chairman of New Hope Housing, said the primary issue is the cost.

"If you think that the guy that you see on the street that's homeless is bearing all the cost of his homelessness, you are badly mistaken," he said.

SEARCH Homeless Services estimates a homeless person living on the street costs $90,000 per year on average, including public services, emergency rooms and jail. In 2013, the city of Houston estimated the total cost of chronic homelessness to be more than $103 million a year.

Giving a homeless person permanent housing, on the other hand, costs $55,000 per year, including rent, healthcare and support service, according to SEARCH.

"We do it because we think it is simply the right thing to do," Criner said. "But there's a very hard-headed business reason to do it. And that is, it's a whole lot cheaper to put people in our homes than it is to allow them to live on the street."

Click on the audio above to listen to the full interview with Sanford Criner.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is the News 88.7 business reporter and also covers criminal justice, guns and shootings.Florian's stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of...

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