The Jan. 17 editorial “Our View: Fight homelessness, addiction at same time” (Page A6), calls for support of L.D. 1711, a bill that funds a pilot program combining treatment and housing for up to 50 people, as a “compassionate and smart way to alleviate suffering among Maine’s homeless.” Considering Maine’s climate of fiscal responsibility and spending constraints, the editorial failed to include the significant economic benefits of L.D. 1711.

In 2015, University of Minnesota researcher Steven Foldes released the results of a study conducted for YouthLink, a homeless service provider similar to Portland’s Preble Street serving teenagers and young adults ages 16 to 24. This group was largely disconnected from health care, education and employment. Foldes’ charge was to determine “the number of youth whose lives would need to be changed to become self-sufficient, productive adults in order to offset the cost of the interventions.”

Working with a cohort of 1,451 non-disabled, homeless teens and young adults, the study first identified the estimated annual fiscal costs to taxpayers for YouthLink clients. These costs included: public expenditures on health services, welfare support, criminal justice system and public housing, welfare transfer payments and lost tax payments on lost earnings. (Note: Here the taxpayers “save” on public education costs, because the homeless are mostly dropouts.)

Next, Foldes estimated the costs paid by taxpayers if transformative intervention programs were instituted to change the life trajectory of these homeless youths. These costs included the immediate needs of meals, nightly shelter and health care as well as psychosocial counseling, education and job skill training.

The study found that if just 6.1 percent of the YouthLink homeless became self-sufficient adults, the savings would cover the costs of all transformative, housing and basic services. As Foldes concludes: “Considering only the economic implications, and leaving aside the human considerations, this (intervention program) becomes an investment opportunity we forgo at our own peril.”

Lawrence Kaplan

Cape Elizabeth