“It cost us one million dollars not to do something about Murray…”
Blog posted by: Jo Prestidge, Tuesday, 31 May 2016.
Jo Prestidge looks at the high financial and human cost of inaction when working with someone who sleeps rough – and the case it makes for a Housing First approach.
“Murray Barr was a bear of a man, an ex-marine, six feet tall and heavyset, and when he fell down - which he did nearly every day - it could take two or three grown men to pick him up. He had straight black hair and olive skin. On the street they called him Smokey. He was missing most of his teeth. He had a wonderful smile. People loved Murray.”
This is the opener to Malcolm Gladwell’s article, Million Dollar Murray, which tells the story of one of downtown Reno's most prolific homeless people.
With all Murray’s years of heavy alcohol use, police contact several times a day, numerous A&E visits, ambulance trips, failed treatment and custodial sentences, the cost of patching Murray up, without changing his situation, was great.
The cost of inaction
“It cost us one million dollars not to do something about Murray,” said a local police officer who started to total exactly how much he was costing public services. At one of the two hospitals Murray was often admitted to, he had run up a bill of $100,000 in six months. That’s one hospital. In just six months.
There are people across England just like Murray. Whatever your perspective on whether they deserve Housing First – an approach which gives people a home without any other conditions or expectations – the evidence suggests that it works for them. Stability, safety and intensive support not only helps people stay in housing but also reduces their contact with acute and costly public services.
More than a roof
In Gladwell’s article we learn that Murray successfully completed a period of alcohol detox and rehabilitation. He moved back into the community but was left to fend for himself. Unsurprisingly, as for many people with multiple and complex needs, it didn't work.
With support from a Housing First scheme, he might have been met from rehab by his worker, contacted daily and visited regularly. His sobriety could have been maintained.
It costs more than just money
But it isn’t just about the financial cost to services.
There is an ethical and moral debate to be had about how much someone's life is worth too. Whatever people like Murray should be doing to help themselves, this is not always possible without intensive intervention which supports and enables them to do so.
Nobody wakes up one day and decides to live like Murray Barr. Things happen throughout someone’s life that impact how that life pans out. Circumstances impact behaviour and self-belief. They restrict the extent to which that individual can lead a happier, safer and healthier life.
Murray Barr died of intestinal bleeding. There was nowhere for him in Reno that could offer him the stability and structure, the intensive monitoring or support, that people knew was needed to enable him to prolong his life and contribute to society. The article concludes that perhaps in Reno that solution was thought to be too costly.
Whatever your motivation, whether financial or ethical, we believe Housing First is ultimately an effective solution.
Over the course of the next three years we will investigate the full benefits of the approach. In the meantime, why not come along to the Housing First workshop at our annual conference? We'll showcase two Housing First projects: one done on a shoestring budget; one commissioned by the local council at an estimated saving of £10,000 per person per year.
These and other Housing First schemes are trying a different approach to get it right for people with multiple and complex needs. Rightly or wrongly, giving someone their own home can and does save money and save lives.
Latest News from
‘Appalling’ spike in rough sleeping is ‘shameful’ and demands emergency action, says Homeless Link01/03/2024 09:20:00
Homeless Link responds to Rough Sleeping Snapshot in England
Homeless Link coordinates letter to the Chancellor28/02/2024 14:15:00
Homeless Link has coordinated a letter to the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ahead of the upcoming Spring Budget.
Coaching Spotlight: Steve Sylvan19/02/2024 11:10:00
Having someone to really listen to you – your challenges, goals and aspirations – can be transformational to how you work and your wider life.
Homelessness & Shadow Homelessness Ministers to speak at Parliamentary Lobby16/02/2024 10:20:00
Both the Homelessness Minister Felicity Buchan and the Shadow Homelessness Minister Mike Amesbury have confirmed they will address attendees of Homeless Link and Riverside Housing's upcoming Parliamentary lobby on March 5th at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster.
Events: Gendered Lens for Homelessness Services14/02/2024 14:10:00
This month Homeless Link will be publishing a new framework and toolkit to help homelessness services become more gender informed.
Connecting local issues to national solutions in Milton Keynes08/02/2024 10:05:00
By Frances Parry, Vice Chair at the Bus Shelter MK
February is LGBTQIA+ History Month05/02/2024 11:10:00
LGBTQIA+ History Month allows time for reflection and celebrates Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual History . It’s also a chance to raise awareness and highlight the issues people from these communities face.
Housing First research highlights huge cross-sector impact02/02/2024 11:15:00
The trauma of long-term homelessness, poverty and social exclusion means a small but significant cohort of people see their needs consistently unmet by traditional homelessness services. These individuals typically have significantly worse physical and mental health compared to both the general public and other people experiencing homelessness. This is exacerbated by the cycles of rough sleeping, temporary accommodation, prison stays and hospital admissions that often mark their lives.
People who are currently or have previously injected drugs urged to order a free Hep C testing kit02/02/2024 10:15:00
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus that can cause life-threatening liver disease and cancer. However, those infected often have no symptoms until many years later, when their liver is badly damaged. Also, when symptoms do occur, they can often be non-specific, such as tiredness or loss of appetite, so can be dismissed. Early detection and treatment can also reduce the risk of passing the virus onto others.