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Give Me Shelter - Day 3

By: Liza A. Park
By: Liza A. Park

As the holiday season sparks the spirit of giving, folks often donate to charities, including Homeless Services.

What you may not realize is you already pay for Homeless Services all year long.

"For instance, most homeless when they need medical care, no matter what the medical care is, they go to the Emergency Center," explains Tallahassee's Mayor John Marks.

According to the 2005 Homeless Coalition Survey, 44 percent of respondents went to the emergency room for basic medical care, and 44 percent had been in prison or jail in the last year.

"Whereas we probably would be able to get them out of jail with a plea bargain or something, they actually wish to remain in jail for a longer period," says Nancy Daniels, the Public Defender for the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida.

Due to high use of emergency rooms and jails, the homeless can ring up a hefty bill, which is one that eventually comes out of taxpayers' pockets.

"We know that it's far more affordable to prevent an episode of homelessness then it is to intervene or end the episode of homelessness," adds Kay Freeman of the Big Bend Homeless Coalition.

Kay Freeman also says homeless prevention can reduce costs and pull Tallahassee out of absorbing the debt of the homeless. For example, Asheville, North Carolina, found 37 homeless people cost the community over $700,000 each year. In San Diego, California, 15 homeless people cost the city $3 million dollars over an 18 month period. This is all documented in the Tallahassee Mayor's Task Force and 10 year plan to end homelessness.

However, Mel Eby of the Homeless Shelter says there's a crisis now. "I can't think about 10 years or five years or next year. I got to think about tonight and this weekend. You know, where are we going to put people? How are we going to keep our exits from being blocked," states Eby.

"You have to combine compassion with orderliness and we don't want homeless people laying on our sidewalks and laying in the street," State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida Willie Meggs adds.

In a year, when homeless out on the streets were allegedly beaten to death by teens in South Florida, is caring for the homeless a social responsibility regardless of cost?

"I think the Bible even says that the poor you will always have with you," Meggs points out.


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