50 Tiny Houses Built As A Haven For Dallas' Homeless And A Money-Saver For Taxpayers | KERA News

50 Tiny Houses Built As A Haven For Dallas' Homeless And A Money-Saver For Taxpayers

Jun 14, 2016

Fifty tiny houses -- dubbed the Cottages at Hickory Crossing -- will soon be home to 50 of the most expensive homeless people in Dallas.

Developers say while it took a chunk of change to get the project off the ground, it could end up saving money in the long run.

The phrase has been tossed around a lot since the Cottages project was announced: “Dallas’ most expensive homeless.” What does that actually mean? Chad Baker has some insight.

“We started with what the county called the ‘frequent fliers,’ so to speak when it comes to the ones being arrested and going to Parkland,” he says.

The Costs Of Homelessness

Baker is assistant director at Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, the nonprofit developing the Cottages. The community is located just west of Fair Park. He says about 300 potential residents made the short list, a group of people currently costing taxpayers about $40,000 a year, per person.

Here’s how you get to that number.

“Some of the big ticket items are just a single ambulance ride can cost over $1,500,” he says.

A trip to Parkland’s emergency room costs $2,500 more. A week in the hospital costs another $2,500. That’s $6,500 altogether.

And getting arrested? Baker estimates that it costs law enforcement $400 just to take someone into custody. And it goes up from there.

“A day in jail can cost the county $64 per person,” says Baker. “And when a homeless person gets arrested they stay in jail for an average of 24 days.”

Which means a typical trip to jail adds up to about $2,000. Baker hopes the Cottages will make a lot of those arrests obsolete.

“If you’re constantly being arrested for say sleeping in public or pan handling and things like that, if you now have a home to live in you would obviously not be arrested for those same types of offenses,” says Baker.

Investing In The Project

It wasn’t inexpensive to buy the land, and build 50, small cottages— each measuring 339 square feet. Plus, there’s a laundromat and a services building. In all, the project costs about $5 million.

John Greenan is executive director of the development group and says maintaining the homes, paying for insurance, utilities, taxes, a full time security staff and mental health services won’t come cheap either.

“So we’re looking at somewhere probably between $12,500 and $15,000 per year per person,” Greenan says.

But remember, that same person on the street costs about $40,000 each year.

“So we’re looking at a savings -- we think we’ll realize over $25,000 per year,” he says.

Hard Numbers And Humanity

While it’s hard to argue with that math, Greenan says there’s more at stake here.

“We aren’t giving people houses because they deserve it, we’re giving them places to live because they are fellow human beings and fellow citizens of the city,” Greenan says. "We don’t think anybody in a city as wealthy as Dallas should be sleeping on the streets.”

And having a cottage means more than just walls and a roof. The case workers and psychiatrists on-site bring resources to people who desperately need support.

“The people I’ve known who became homeless, it usually was a progression, it started with a job loss or substance abuse or broken marriage, and then their life spiraled out of control from there. In order to get their life back together, it’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some work,” Greenan says. “Putting them in an isolated place without a community, without services is likely to lead to failure.”

Organizers realize while this project is ambitious and exciting, 50 cottages for 50 people isn’t enough help all the city’s nearly 4,000 homeless people. And, Baker says, deciding who gets a cottage and who doesn’t can be a heart-wrenching emotional task.

“It really is a hard decision because they are real people. The decisions that we make have effects on their lives, and it’s tough sometimes,” Baker says.

And developers hope what started out as a tough process around a conference table will end up a bright new chapter for people who could really use four walls, a roof, access to social services -- and a lot more stability.