We can all agree that homelessness is a problem and that more needs to be done to address it. With the third largest homeless population in the nation, we in San Diego are, in fact, compelled to do more. The United Way of San Diego County created Project 25 from the philosophy that it costs more do to nothing. It is astounding that 35 people cost the community about $4.2 million in 2010. But without Project 25 these people would have continued to cost that much or more. The only ones who wouldn’t be a further burden on the community would be the many who would be dead because they did not receive the services of this vital program.

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Now it should be noted that not all homeless individuals are costing the community such exorbitant amounts. Most don’t need the type of intensive services that Project 25 offers. But there is a small segment of our neighbors living on the streets of San Diego who are a perennial drain on the system and who have been very difficult for traditional homeless services to reach.

In 2012, the 35 people served by Project 25 cost the community about $2 million. That includes public costs such as the ER visit that Joan Kloh generated when she hurt her foot. The math is very simple: add up the cost to operate the program and provide emergency services in 2012, subtract it from the cost to the city in 2010 and you have a savings of more than $1.4 million dollars in a twelve-month period.

In addition to demonstrating the economic benefit of investing in San Diego’s hardest to reach the homeless, Project 25 has shed significant light on the human side of the issue, teaching us a lot about those hardest to reach among our chronic homeless population. There are myths that homeless people want to be homeless and don’t want to change. This has not been our experience with Project 25. When our outreach team approached individuals on the streets, almost no one turned them down. Most responded: “This is what I have been praying for.” What’s more, a testament to these individual’s willingness to change is the fact that after two years, all of the initial cohort are still in the program (except for one individual who passed away) and continuing to make strides towards their goals in life.

Success may look different for the clients of Project 25, but most of these individuals have lived on the streets for a long time. Change is not going to happen overnight. There are some who may need supportive services indefinitely. But what’s the alternative? Do we just ignore the problem while these individuals continue to over-utilize the 911 system, remaining stuck in the revolving door of hospital emergency rooms and county jail?

The bottom line is that it is eminently clear that those served by Project 25 are better off because of it, and that the community is better off as well. All at a net savings of $1.4 million in a single year. It’s difficult to see an argument against the value of this program.

As San Diego’s largest homeless services provider, we house more than 1,200 of our neighbors every night. The services we provide are not limited to the permanent supportive housing model of which Project 25 is a fine example. Shelter diversion, rapid re-housing, transitional housing, veterans services, employment services, meals, children’s services and therapeutic childcare, integrated healthcare — each of our neighbors in need requires a different dosage of services so that we may achieve our singular goal: securing them income and permanent housing as quickly as possible. I personally invite anyone to come down for a tour of the Village to see how we are achieving this goal.

As we begin our third year in Project 25, we are looking to graduate several individuals from the program. They have obtained an income, pay their rent, pay their bills, grocery shop on their own and are living in apartments throughout the city.

For them, it’s a long way from where they were in 2010.

Sister Tricia Cruise is the president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages and St. Vincent de Paul Village.

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