Human services help individuals find employment, secure housing, and access medical care; they promote the safety, health, and success of the community. Perhaps less obvious, though, is that many services provide a return on investment and actually save communities money. By funding these human services,New York City can avoid more costly solutions. Given that the city budget proposes $400 million in program cuts, this is a critical time to recognize that human services are worthy investments.
Supportive housing is just one example of a human service that is absolutely worth its cost. Supportive housing services offer homeless people access to housing, medical care, psychiatric support, and substance abuse counseling. These clients rely less on expensive inpatient psychiatric care and other costly emergency services. Supportive housing has been estimated to save the city between $12,146 and $16,282 per client as compared to emergency shelters and services and benefits the community in other ways. For instance, many New Yorkagencies hire locally and allow community members to use meeting spaces and libraries. Studies conducted in New York City have shown that supportive housing projects have no statistically significant effect on housing prices within 1,000 feet of a development.
Just as supportive housing is less expensive than emergency services, Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs cost less than juvenile detention. ATI programs give the courts the ability to place youth in community-based nonprofit programs when detaining them in state prison is unnecessary. While New York State spends nearly $120,000 a year to incarcerate a single juvenile offender, ATI programs can cost between $5,000 – $28,000. An investment in these programs can provide a more appropriate solution for many youth offenders while saving taxpayers money.
Wide-ranging mental health services also benefit the community and are cost-effective. When individuals with mental illness receive proper treatment and rehabilitation, they have less need for costly emergency medical services and detention. The nonprofit community-based sector provides clients with alternatives to hospital services and homelessness prevention programs that are cheaper than state and county services. Since one in five people in New York State experience mental illness symptoms each year, a reduction in funding for mental health services could have serious consequences. With adequate funding of clinical treatment programs, transitional housing, peer counseling, and other mental health services, patients can access the care that they need and reduce their use of more costly alternatives.
Unfortunately, the current New York City budget proposes substantial cuts to these essential services. The Advantage rental subsidy program is being completely eliminated and there are millions of dollars in cuts to HIV/AIDS Services Administration’s (HASA) contracts and assistance, including home care, employment training, and case management. Alternative to Incarceration programs are losing $3.5 million in funding, and the proposed budget cuts $4.86 million from mental health and substance abuse outpatient treatment and millions of dollars from other mental health services.
While some very tough budget decisions will need to be made, the Mayor and City Council members should consider as many sustainable policy solutions as possible. If these budget cuts are adopted, the challenges that New York City residents face will not disappear—they will simply have to be addressed with more costly services.
Contributed by Ariana Brill
of the Human Services Council of NYC